For most of us, diversity was most commonly associated with gender diversity and rightly so as a large part of the developing and the underdeveloped world is still struggling with getting the sex ratio right, which is the foundation to building gender diversity at all levels in the society. However there are multiple other aspects of diversity, which are not commonly understood, but in the recent past a broader narrative of diversity has emerged. This includes people with alternate sexual orientation (LGBTQ), people with physical disability, people belonging to ethnic and religious minorities, people belonging to a different race and color and any other trait which makes them different from the so-called majority in any place.
So why is it that humankind has been so averse to welcoming people in their midst who are different in any aspect. Well there are several reasons which come to my mind.
First of these goes back more than 40000 years in human history. Neanderthals and Homo sapiens were two very similar but different species of humans who co-existed for thousands of years, before Neanderthals vanished from the face of the earth. Historians attribute several reasons for this and without going into any of those details, it is apparent that lack of a diversity gene had a role to play in the origin of this problem and over the years multiple layers of complex issues have only added to the challenge.
If we look further in history, men were always looked up as providers in the nomadic years and thereafter during the industrial revolution, being physically stronger while women took up the role of nurturers and care givers. This set up a precedent for generations to come, whereby the male role gained in prominence which hasn't corrected itself even after emergence of the service and knowledge economy where it has been proven unequivocally that that physical strength has no consequence in the success of a person. Women have come a long way in the last two millennia and have made a significant contribution in the progress made by mankind in every aspect of life, but the age old biases, conscious and unconscious continue to be a major hurdle on the road to equality.
Nothing has shaped society as much as religion has and when we reflect, we will see that till today that none of the major religions of the world have given woman an equal status as man. Men continue to play a dominant role in every religion from being the key person in conducting religious ceremonies to being the supreme leader of religious faiths. This precedent set by religion has been carried forward by society and multiplied several times, leading to the present crisis where half of the human race has been denied the rights, which are fundamental to survival and a meaningful existence.
Finally, if we talk about the other aspects of diversity, (sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, and disability) the thing which stands out as the root cause of discrimination is humankind's love for similarity and the feeling of comfort, which comes with the known. By extension things and people which are unknown and are different in any aspect pose a significant challenge. The easiest way to deal would be to isolate or exclude them. This has been at the heart of discrimination and the beliefs nurtured over generations have become so deeply entrenched that at times we aren't even aware of our biases and this is what has come to be known as an unconscious bias.
Having understood the reasons for our apathy, let's examine what's in it for us as collective humanity if we could set things right, (i.e. if we believe that things haven't been right).
- Equality and its impact in improving quality of life- Every country (or at least the ones who believe in fundamental rights of its citizens) has recognized the right to equality for all its citizens which means that every citizen has the right to live a life of their liking which equates to being able to live anywhere, work anywhere, chose a religion, marry a person of their choice and have the right to equal opportunities without any discrimination on any ground. However giving the right and implementing on the ground are not necessarily the same and as a result, 'different' people continue to live with injustice, thereby depriving them of opportunities where they could have made an impact not only in their own lives but also in the collective benefit of the society. Prominent philosophers, thinkers and psychologists have acknowledged that when we have diversity of thought, we are able to find better solutions to problems, leading to significant benefits for everyone. Do we still need a reason for practicing equality!
- Reducing conflict through Right to dignity- By extension of right to equality, every person irrespective of their differences (race, color, ethnicity, caste, sexual orientation or preference, physical disability) needs and deserves to live a life of dignity, where he/she is shown the self-respect that every human being is entitled to. Ensuring this will lead to harmony, peace, and creation of an environment which is conducive to growth and development. Denying the right, has disastrous consequences for humankind and society, which we are all very familiar with.
- Enabling Human Potential through Belongingness-When we talk of diversity, a very important aspect also needs to be kept in mind, which is that of belongingness. It is the feeling and spirit of belongingness which truly helps in realizing the benefits of diversity. It is a universal need acknowledged and written extensively in numerous treatise on human psychology. Every human being has belongingness as a basic need at the same level as other thing existential needs of food, clothing & shelter. The societal institution of family is the first place where a child experiences belonging and a sense of security, comfort and love which comes with it. However when this sense of belongingness is taken away by society& its various institutions, as children step into adulthood, through discrimination, it spells terrible serious trouble for the affected individuals and the society at large. A sense of belongingness, which we are all very familiar with through our families, our friends, our workplaces, our other social groups makes our life meaningful and enables us to lead a fuller life, thus truly enabling us to thrive and realize our true potential.
Having learnt so much about diversity, its historical context and the imbalance which has been created in the society both consciously and unconsciously, I do feel very strongly that it is upon all of us to rise and stand up as allies of people who have been discriminated against. If we don't do it now, it will never be done!
Be a diversity champion. It's the right choice, after all our collective happiness depends on it. Is there anything more important than it!