On Difference

There is a special awareness that comes from reading old journals whilst jet-lagged; the words don't seem any more profound, but the filter of strange tiredness certainly adds a layer of 'did I write this? What was I thinking?' which could be a positive or negative observation. 

I wrote the notes below about ten years ago when considering how a very conservative religious institution (I had my former university in mind) could open a discussion on racial diversity. Much of this would apply to ethnic or interfaith conversations as well. All, of course, presupposes a level of openness to begin with.

This is just the rough list; perhaps it would be worth writing up into something more coherent (when I myself an more coherent!)

  1. Must be presented as a tool to help those of whatever background communicate in a cross-culturally competent way–not as something that helps the white people be nice to the black people.
  2. Is not to be something that dredges up the harms of past generations (but must recognise them nonetheless).
  3. It's not to make everyone 'like' everyone else; should recognise the cultural differences that go beyond race.
  4. There can be no 'Generalised Diversity'. A place must be made welcoming but not artificially so.
  5. Be careful not to introduce racial stereotypes that people may not have to begin with.
  6. You do not have to compromise religious or moral convictions in order to sit at table with someone who differs from yourself. 
  7. A given 'methodology' or 'theology' is almost by definition excluding of 'the other'; a person aware of diversity seeks to understand others regardless of difference.
  8. People are, and will remain, different from one another; to realise this is the first step in bringing them together. It's the paradox of the matter.
  9. If Christians (or whatever creed) are not peacemakers we can expect little of other faiths in that arena–if one is ready to denounce an individual (or half the world) over some difference (even a major one that you both perceive as a matter of eternal importance) without bothering to explore him as a person, you've forfeited any right or chance for further conversation.
  10. Do not generate an empasse as a matter of course.
  11. Within your own realm, there must be a system open to discussion and debate without fear of either physical or 'spiritual' reprisal. If that openness is lacking, you've just made your belief static and there is no way for it to live and mature.
  12. If people live in an environment where they cannot develop a self-sustaining spiritual persona, they will forever seek others who are 'just like us'.