The Gift of Diversity
Shortly after my nineteenth birthday I took a bus from my home in southern New Hampshire to Yosemite National Park. As a rock climber I wanted to see what Yosemite had to offer. I hadn’t traveled much outside of the New England states, so I purchased a bus ticket that went south to Augusta, Georgia, then across to San Diego, California, and north to Yosemite.
Throughout the trip I began to learn how diverse the world could be. Imagine arriving at a bus terminal at two o’clock in the morning, waiting for the next bus to arrive a few hours later. I saw people who looked different than me, spoke different languages than I did, and some had all their worldly possessions in a shopping cart. This was all new to me. I met people who spoke English but it didn’t sound anything like the English we spoke in New Hampshire.
One of the things the bus trip did for me was it caused me to rethink how I saw the world. I learned that where I was raised was nowhere near as diverse as the rest of the country. This realization could have scared me, but instead it opened me up to seeking the commonalities I had with others rather than focus on our differences.
Is it possible to search for our commonalities, rather than focus on our differences?
To do so, we must set aside the fear we may have of those who look and sound different than us. On my cross country trip, I saw many people who were looking for ways to improve their lives, just as I was. Even though their idea of a better life may have differed from mine, this did not make their vision wrong, just different.
One of the challenges with accepting diversity is it can shake our foundation, causing us to question what we have been taught, or what makes us comfortable. It can be easy to retreat to old habits of thought, because we know them, and often our thoughts justify our actions, even if our actions serve no positive purpose.
A way to ease our uncertainty about those who are different than us, would be to begin a conversation. When I met new people on the bus, one of the first questions I asked was, “Where are you headed?” It’s a simple question, but from there the conversation always expanded. If we fail to begin a dialogue to seek a better understanding, then we will be making assumptions that are not always true, or based on any real facts.
Arriving in Yosemite, the diversity expanded even further, because Yosemite is a destination for international travelers. If I had chosen to stay in my comfort zone, I would have missed many opportunities to learn about different parts of the world from the people who live there.
When we recognize the benefits of a diverse world, we no longer need to be afraid of what we don’t know. Living without the fear of the unknown, allows us the courage, and compassion to ask heartfelt questions, and then begin to have an honest, informed conversation. It will be in these conversations where we start to see that we have more in common with those who look, speak, and view the world differently than we do.
Once we reach a place of understanding each other, no matter where we live, how we choose to live, or who we choose to love, we can open a dialogue that will benefit everyone. One of the powerful things about embracing diversity is each of us has a point of view that may be beneficial to others.
The intention of living a life that accepts everyone is to make life easier, not more challenging. I knew little about homelessness when I boarded the bus bound for Yosemite, but I had the compassion to recognize the homeless, and the struggles they face each and every day.
When we are compassionate to those who appear different than us, we can begin to unite as one people to help those who are facing unseen struggles.
Diversity within a society has its challenges. People will judge others without a true understanding of who they are judging. Judgement will always interfere with our acceptance of a diverse culture. As we have seen, judgement is often founded in fear, and a lack of true understanding. When we are informed, and aware, our fear diminishes and we lose our need to judge. This allows us to open our arms to the beauty found in the hearts of others. In doing so we open our hearts to them as well.
I spent the next nine months working in Yosemite. I left in early June on a bus back to my home state. This time I traveled straight across the heartland of this big, beautifully diverse country, eager to meet people who were nothing like me. Excited to ask the question, “Where are you headed?” ready to begin a conversation for more understanding, and being open to learning a diverse point of view.
Can we learn to appreciate the diversity we see every day? Is it possible our fear of a diverse world has no foundation in truth or love?
The next time you meet someone who appears different than you, don’t be afraid to ask the question, “Where are you headed?” the answer may surprise you. You may be going in the same direction.