When the issue of diversity is raised, most think of race and ethnicity. Although these topics are very important, they are just the tip of the iceberg. The lens through which we see the world is significantly influenced by the whole of our life experiences. Factors such as socioeconomic status, gender, religion, occupation, language, where we live, cultural background and a host of other factors are all critical components of the concept of diversity.
Thus, we can segment people based on many factors that allow us to discuss them as a group. However, no one factor can adequately or correctly describe a group or even an individual.
While I was in college, I became intrigued by anthropology and developed a keen interest in the work of Margaret Mead. It is this influence that allows me to view society and culture systemically. As I traveled throughout the world, my understanding and appreciation of cultural differences and similarities expanded geometrically. Thus I am more apt to see these as simply differences, neither negative nor positive.
From Alaska and Calgary, Canada to Newfoundland, Canada, to Mexico and the Caribbean, from the Scandinavian countries to Capetown, South Africa, Egypt, the Arab Emirates to China and Europe, and places in between, societies have many similarities especially when considered in broader systemic terms, e.g., religion, race/color, government, family, and education.
However, the differences within these structures are what make for diversity. Their languages, traditions, emphasis on education or lack thereof, religious preferences, type of government, etc.
Several years ago, I visited Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar is inhabited by the native people of Africa, people of Arabic descent, Chinese, Indians, Israelis, Europeans and others. Although people of different ethnicities and different cultural backgrounds reside on this island, they all appear to co-exist peacefully. I attempted to verify this peaceful co-existence by questioning several people in the city and out in the rural areas where they cultivated the world’s spices.
One of the most impressive things about Zanzibar was the religious structures. In the midst of the city stood the Muslim Mosque, the Catholic Cathedral, the protestant churches, the Jewish Synagogue among others and often side by side. When the Muslim call to prayer sounded throughout the city, the Moslems heeded the call and entered the Mosque to pray. Christians and non-Christians alike seemed not to notice nor be disturbed by it.
The restaurants and shops also featured items that derived from of all their people and many times offered a fusion of cultural items. The city seems to have accepted and respected these differences without superstition, fear or hatred.
Unlike the people of Zanzibar, the term global society has seemed a distant phenomenon for many. However, it has become exceedingly obvious that this concept has not only taken root but is fundamental to life around the globe. Travel, technology, manufacturing and environmental issues all make the world a smaller, yet diverse, place.
Today, the world’s people are highly mobile, visit and live all over the world; some are traveling for pleasure on short trips while others actually take up either full or part time residence in non-native countries.
In addition, the current technological revolution has not only transformed the way we communicate and share information but has become integral to all aspects of life in every corner of the world. That great communicator and disseminator of news and culture, the television, has transformed and melded the world’s cultures in many ways.
Parts for many products are made in several countries, and may be assembled in several others. Meanwhile they are sold all over the world. In 2012, the most American made car was a Japanese car, Toyota. Likewise, some American cars and their parts as well as many other products are made in other countries. And of course, most of what we wear, almost all of our electronic devices and many other products are made in eastern countries. We may like to see ourselves as unique but we are dependent on much of the rest of the world as are they for many of the products we have become accustomed to and for our security.
We are finally beginning to realize that we don’t own the environment nor does it bend to our will. Climate and environmental dilemmas are not isolated in one country. What we do at home anywhere in the world may affect people all over the globe. A disaster in one country across the globe from us will ultimately have an impact on us; climate change is real and is shared globally.
Thus, solutions to these problems and others demand global participation and resolution. Achieving this outcome requires respect for and appreciation of diversity. It then behooves all civilized nations to ensure that youth and their citizenry as a whole are educated to develop a respect for and appreciation of diversity. Such enables societies to capitalize on diversity’s attributes.
Can we transform ourselves and influence the rest of the world to do the same? Our future depends on it!
Latest posts by Altha Manning (see all)
- Diversity: Education’s Greatest Challenge? – by Altha Manning - July 5, 2014
- They Pushed Segregation Out — by Altha Manning - July 5, 2014
- Embrace Diversity, Embrace the Future — by Altha Manning - July 5, 2014