Tolerance and Diversity (A Response)

For many years I lived in Little Rock (Arkansas) and I enjoyed living in the South. Now I live in Toronto (Canada) and I imported my husband, Tim, to a new environment. Both places had their unique qualities; I’m a geographer so I like to see what diverse locations are like. One of the biggest differences, however, was in the quality of diversity. I’ve literally gone from one extreme to another. Much though I loved Little Rock, it can hardly be called “diverse”. Culturally, there are few surprises in the city: it’s what we jokingly referred to as a “monoculture”. Toronto, on the other hand, has different cliques and neighbourhoods reflecting different cultures within blocks of each other. Tim and I love to venture just a few kilometres on a Saturday morning to try a new grocery store. Often we won’t even recognize the vegetables in the stands, never mind know what to do with them.

So it’s in this context that I read the following text. The words are common among people who don’t understand diversity, and in particular among those who are sufficiently insecure in who they are that they feel threatened when “differences” are welcomed. That insecurity generates fear, which they then try to spread. Unfortunately, in days when fear is common, they are adding to an irrational and unnatural perspective that is rooted in the present and the past. It is not “the unknown” we need to be afraid of: it is very well known. We need to be afraid of exploitation, extremism, arrogance and selfishness. These can be seen as often within ourselves as in others: unless we’re spending so much time fighting diversity that we don’t both to look.

I originally read this on a post that copied and pasted from another source and which was not referenced very well. It appears it might have been here.

Tolerance and diversity are actually keywords for a social change urged upon a spiritually dumbed down generation… Many people who try to fight diversity do so from a “spiritual” point of view: probably because anything goes within this context. Even hate speech is accepted if it’s “spiritual”. This perspective allows them to see themselves as being “above” those around them, preaching a special message from God. It is particularly true of people who claim to be Christians but have no real understanding of Jesus’ message. After all, Jesus was one of the biggest promoters of a diverse and tolerant perspective in history. He welcomed gentiles into his faith, and “sinners” to eat and socialize with him.

…under which is hid the real purpose which is removing serious accountability for our choices in life… In fact, tolerance and diversity increase the accountability for one’s choices. They increase our options in life, and some would say therefore it is harder to choose. But by having more choices, we are more likely to find one that accurately suits our needs and self. That, perhaps, is what many people are afraid of: if we have more options then the odds are likely that we will not choose the same one they did. The more churches, places of worship, and general things to do on Sunday mornings, the more the likelihood they will not make the dominant or traditional choice. Since many churches are run like businesses, they lose profit.

…The real purpose of tolerance is not to promote understanding… This author, who apparently does not understand why one would want to be diverse or tolerant, has no qualifications to spout his/her opinion on the “purpose” of tolerance. One of my functions within the Ontario government (OPS) is to promote diversity and speak about tolerance. In spite of opinions to the contrary: there is no demonic, hidden purpose or conspiracy associated with our work. Our goal is precisely as stated: to promote understanding, and through that to make the OPS a better and more productive place to work. Misunderstandings are the primary source of conflict in our world. Better understanding leads to peace, both individual and corporate.

…but it is a tool used to shut down dissenting voices… I know that I have found many situations where I’ve had to “talk to” someone who was being intolerant: even my own leadership. Usually it’s just the way of communicating. A simple change in the words used or the tone is enough to turn a comment that was insulting into one that is informative… even if it fails to be tolerant. My intent has never been to “shut down dissenting voices” but to convince people be civil to one another. Unfortunately, some are not able to do that. Different perspectives are always informative: even if intolerant. But if a speaker or writer needs to be insulting: if they won’t “beat their swords into ploughshares”, then it’s not my fault if they get arrested for promoting violence. If a person doesn’t like me because I’m gay: it doesn’t matter much to me. It’s their loss. However, it they’re promoting lies and misunderstandings about me because I’m gay… that is a different matter entirely. I will react with the fullest force available to me… and the reaction is not because they’re being intolerant, but because they’re misrepresenting the truth.

…Tolerance and diversity are the liberal idea that makes provender of the human brain… Again, a statement that is completely false: and since this one is also insulting I’ll comment that I was surprised she knew what “provender” means. (But then again, I realized she simply copied and pasted her article from another source. If people are going to be insulting and uncivil, I wish they would be original about it.) In fact, tolerance and diversity are ideas that challenge the human mind to expand to their limits. They are principles that demand we not only understand one perspective (the easiest: our own) but that we reach out and explore other perspectives as well. “Acceptance” is only the beginning of diversity, and is a poor beginning at that. To be truly diverse, we need to understand and integrate other perspectives. It does not mean assimilation: diversity does not mean that either of us change our perspectives. It does mean, however, that we understand, respect and are able to work together. That takes a lot more work than most people expect… which is probably why so many are afraid of it.

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