Wednesday, 1 September 2010

day 22: diversity

i wrote the bulk of this post last night, because i knew i'd be extra tired today. it didn't quite come together the way i wanted, and of course i'm now zonked out having hosted about 10 people for dinner tonight (though i loved having them over). so it is what it is, and i hope conveys something of what i wanted to get across.

today's topic is not seen as a plus by a significant section of the community. there are many people who don't like difference, who can't seem to cope with a group of people who don't look and/or behave in ways that they themselves feel comfortable with. it's a natural human tendency to be resistant to change and to be suspicious of the unknown.

but diversity has brought enrichment to my life. i feel like i have gained so much from my interaction with people of various colours and cultures. a large part of the diversity in my life is a result of belonging to a religious minority in a small city. i've written about this before, so i'm going to cheat a little and copy a bit of that post:

our mosque is special. it's special because of the mix of colours and races you find there. from the white europeans, to the ivory of the arabs, to the golden bronze of the malays and indonesians, to the darker brown of the south asians and maori and right across the spectrum to the various shades of black that make up africa. it's all there in one room, particularly noticeable in ramadan because more people come to the mosque for prayer.

this not something you see in many countries. mosques in muslim countries will be dominated by the ethnicity of the people native to the land. you may get a bit of diversity, but not so much. mosques in other western countries tend to get drawn along ethnic lines. as an example, i remember attending a RISEAP conference in sydney back in 1989. it lasted 7 days, and each evening, dinner for delegates was hosted by a different mosque. so, we went to the lebanese mosque in lakemba, to the yugoslav (as it was back then) mosque, to the south african mosque, and so on. you get the picture....

so we all come together in the one mosque, and it's a pretty amazing feeling to be in that bunch. it's amazing because race and colour truly don't matter, and not being able to understand one another really doesn't matter much either. we understand enough, we understand that we belong together in that place. i wish that was how the rest of the world could be.

i wrote that in ramadan last year. and while the point i was making then is that race and colour aren't barriers in the mosque, the point i want to make now is that our differences are a positive thing. they bring a richness of experiences, and help me to think of things in ways that i haven't thought of before. they bring a different interpretation to similar experiences, they show me different ways of dealing with similar situations.

i don't just experience diversity in the mosque, but also through things like the interfaith council, the ethnic women's centre and political activities. i get to meet people of different ages, different political persuasions, different occupations.

being able to interact with such a variety of people with a variety of ideas and ways of doing things has taught how to be aware of and recognise discrimination, particularly within myself. i think it gives me humility, in that it helps me to move away from the arrogance that can come from being part of a closed homogenous group. sharing the experiences of a range of people helps me to recognise my privilege, and therefore to make more of an effort to not be an a**hole (what i mean is "to be more sensitive").

and yet, because many human experiences are common, and many of our dreams & desires are so similar, meeting a diverse group of people tends to help me realise that we aren't quite as different as we like to think we are.

so i'm thankful for the diversity in my life. i'm glad i don't live in a country where there are predominantly one type of people. even in the country i live in, i'm glad to have the opportunity to meet a range of interesting people.

the best way to increase the diversity within your own life is basically to get out more. i can't say it more simply than that! but diversity will only come from seeking it, and from choosing to interact with a range of people. i'd recommend interfaith councils, multi-cultural councils, refugee services. taking advantage of the diversity within your local community isn't difficult, sometimes it takes a conscious effort but often it doesn't.

it may be facetious to say that that my thoughts and prayers are with those who don't appreciate or value diversity, but i do feel that way: i think such people are missing out on one of life's great blessings.

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