There is not a human I have met that is not yearning to be understood and accepted for who they truly are. The trouble with being able to truly understand someone at their deeply authentic level is that a person needs to truly understand themselves at that level first; otherwise, we can only understand them by the qualities linked to the labels plastered all over the surface-level mask.
We tend to all go through life collecting labels to identify with so that we can either connect to or dissociate ourselves from “others.” Sometimes, we might even change who we really are to associate ourselves with a label, so that we can be accepted. The problem is, if we are deceiving ourselves and others, we will never feel genuinely loved, and that defeats the entire purpose for changing ourselves.
Deeply understanding our own and each others’ personal stories is what will show us deep connections to even the most seemingly polar opposite types of people. The reason we are all still in conflict is that we do not take time to go deeper into truly understanding ourselves and others. It is only when we make time to learn about ourselves first, and then others next, that we can achieve true diversity rather than continuing to nurture the competitive game between surface-level pride.
Since I am not more of an expert on anyone’s story other than my own, I am about to invite you to lift the labels covering my surface-level mask and become a diver for the rest of this text. I will guide you through some deep areas, but promise that you will see some reefs that might be emotionally breathtaking.
My knowledge of racial diversity started at school. There was not one predominant race in my school for students or staff. My kindergarten teacher was white, my first grade teacher was black, my second and third grade instructional assistant was hispanic. Not only did I go to school with quite a mix of middle-eastern, hispanic, asain, black, and white students. I learned that believing that we are all precious helps us connect more genuinely, lovingly, and deeply with each other. Because I grew up in a racially-diverse environment, I was shocked when I taught at a school that had mostly white students, and I apparently taught the only non-white students in the entire school (who just happened to be in the EL program). The more I chat with educators, the more I understand how many educators there are who have grown up around predominantly one race, whether it be their own or another. I was saddened to learn this, and was thankful that this was not my experience. Unfortunately, due to the way I look, people who do not take time to learn my story might. The irony is that, in believing that about me, people would be stereotyping me in the way that they do not want to be stereotyped. Knowing what it is like to be the recipient of false assumptions, I have learned not to assume that I know anything about someone until they have told me about it themselves.
My knowledge of socioeconomic diversity started when my family participated in service projects and mission trips. Whether it was gathering toys and food to bring to a family whose breadwinner lost their job or bringing necessities to a village every year in San Felipe, Mexico, or building homes with Amor Ministries, I saw that sheer joy can live in places that are socioeconomically poor, simply by the giving of time and resources. I also have been to the 32nd floor penthouse of an “elite” group of humans and have witnessed much sadness behind the eyes of those who were there. Personally, I have experienced paying for gas and fast food with the small amount of change I could find in my car, and I have also lived in a luxury apartment with pools and a rock climbing wall. I will say that I was more emotionally connected and content when I was barely making ends meet than when I was sitting on the porch of my ridiculously expensive apartment. This is not to say that there is no sadness in poverty or happiness in material wealth. What it means is that I have had direct experience with and learned from two “extremes” of socioeconomic groups that had opposite outcomes than those that society labels as the expectation for the labeled emotional state of each group.
My knowledge of religious diversity started when I was asked to explore other religions during my Senior Religion class. We studied multiple belief systems in class and then were assigned to visit worship services for at least three of the religions. Growing up with a firm foundation in one religion, it was enlightening to experience other religions’ ways of worship. Some were similar to the familiar ways that I worshipped, and some were different. What I remember noticing is that, within each of those experiences (including my own worship experiences), I saw that there were humans who were welcoming and humans who showed disdain. I learned that it is unfair to label a religion by the negativity of some of its members, because there were enough people who represented the beauty of the religion to balance out the negative.
My knowledge of the definition of diversity, although immersed as a child, became more clear during my Cultural Diversity course during my Master’s program. My professor taped printer papers around the room with labels on them: Black People, Hispanic People, White People, Poor People, Rich People, Men, Women, Transgender People, Gay People, Straight People, Jewish People, Muslim People, Christian People, Atheist People, etc.. As students, we were asked to go around the room and write as many beliefs that we have heard or believed about these groups of people. At the end of that activity, we were asked to sit down. My professor collected the papers from around the room and then asked for anyone who identified with the label on the first paper to stand up. A group of people stood up. My professor said, “According to those in this room, you are stereotyped as being…” and continued to speak by reading the list. The rest of the class session was that process repeated until every word on each of those papers was read out loud. I learned that all of us have been stereotyped in one way or another. There was not one person who did not stand up at least four times, and there was not a consistent correlation between those who stood up for race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. I learned that within each category was a diverse mix of unique people and that there is no formula that follows labeling a human for their surface-level qualities.
So, maybe I don’t know much about the definition of diversity to which the person who questioned my knowledge was referring. However, I do deeply understand how blessed I am to have the richly diverse experiences that help me genuinely accept myself and others as unique individuals that have common connections deep within us. Diversity is what happens when we fuse those deep connections together in loving moments.
May you ask questions before assuming qualities of someone because of the surface-level masks they may wear. May you not try to stifle someone else's uniqueness or flourishing because it might seem to clash with yours. May you be able to accept your inner diversity with love, so that it can overflow into acceptance of others’ inner diversity. May you be able to see that, even with common qualities, each of us is a uniquely diverse, inner human soul.
With all of this said, I genuinely ask you to ponder this important question, “What do you know about diversity?”