The Virtue of Diversity

If we are taught that variety is the spice of life and all that we see around us in nature is a spectacular array of endlessly diverse beauty, then why are we also living in an age of fear – fear of the unknown, fear of difference, fear of diversity?

I don’t want to corrode this blog with ugly words like xenophobia or racism – these irrational fears exist but that is not the theme nor purpose of this post. What has been bothering me of late is our inherent human fear of the unknown and new experiences – this fear that disables us from reaching and unlocking our full human potential grieves me.

Childhood vs Adulthood

When we are children, we reach for all the crayons in the packet, to paint our canvas with all the colours within our grasp. We colour outside the lines, excitedly and without fear – until someone, usually an adult tells us this is something to be feared! But truly, what will happen if we colour outside the lines? Will someone need to call the fire brigade to put out a fire?

When we grow up, we buy adult colouring books (no, not the kinky kind, I mean “mandalas” and I concede not all of us buy them but humour me!) – we carefully select crayons in colour themes, meticulously keep within the lines, taking great time and effort to complete a masterpiece of perfection. And when we are finished, it looks like something anyone else could do; there is nothing unique about it because our choices have been shaped by the fears that now govern us, to keep to certain colour palettes and what is aesthetically pleasing in the mainstream.

But weren’t the greatest artists, writers, scientists, thinkers that ever lived, those that thought outside the box, and those that lived outside the realms of society’s fear-soaked parameters?

When we are children, we make friends not on the basis of skin colour, culture and religion, but on the basis of a smile, a game of ‘tig’ (tag, if you’re an American reader), a joke shared in class, usually something all too pure and innocent, insignificant yet meaningful.

When we grow up, we become selective, not only on the basis of colour, culture and creed, but also by intellect, profession and hobbies. We gravitate towards those who fit within a similar social class to us, dine and drink in similar places, afford similar holidays and education. We have become so distanced from our childlike innocence and purity that it’s now threatening to damage our very (co-)existence.

When we are children, we jump onto the climbing frame, thrust ourselves off swings in motion, we fall and tumble making cuts, scrapes and bruises a weekly occurrence. We are wide-eyed when a new game’s rules are described in P.E. (that’s physical education if you’re not a British reader), we are fascinated when we undertake a pottery lesson and learn to shape every day objects in Art class, we are captivated by the musical instruments on offer in Music class, rushing excitedly to find something new to play with each week.

When we grow up we find a hobby and stick to it with regimented routine. The open-minded, wide-eyed child within us is stifled and we narrow ourselves, we define ourselves as only creative beings, only runners, only readers, only swimmers, only climbers. We pick a couple of things and define ourselves by just those confined parameters. When did we decide to stop trying new things? A dear friend (we’ll call her the Maurice to my King Julian) sent me two inspiring quotes this morning:

“Don’t work 8 hours for a company then go home and not work on your own goals. You’re not tired, you’re uninspired.” (writer: unknown)

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.” (writer: Paul Coelho)

I’m not suggesting that we give up routines which contain the virtue of discipline but there is an imbalance in life when our need for routine limits our potential for growth from experience of new and different things. When narrow mindedness infests our day to day and becomes a habit for us, when parochial attitudes enter our world and settle in as a norm we are hurting ourselves, from the potential, the possibility and from savouring the delights of new people, new places, new ideas and new experiences.

So how does it fare, the comparison between childhood and adulthood? Well to borrow a few words from someone infinitely wiser than myself, “do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children, before the Great Mystery into which we were born” – Albert Einstein

If being an adult by society’s definition isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, what is stopping you from redefining your limits within reason and affordability? The best things in life are free – go hiking, learn a new language using YouTube, start that dream of writing a novel, whatever you want – the world is figuratively your oyster! Just because you’re an architect or you’re a doctor or whatever your professional label, doesn’t mean that is your entire definition. It is incumbent on none other than yourself to find a balance between routine and living an inspired life. If you don’t want to look back one day and wish you’d said this, done that, been there – then say it, do it and go there! Step out of your comfort zone!

Disclaimer: I do not for one second, advocate becoming selfish in all of this because we each have duties and responsibilities in life that are a source of self-fulfilment in and of themselves but even amongst the busiest of lives, we can make time for things if we really want to.

What if I fall? Oh, my darling, what if you fly?

Being that I am a self-professed neophile (lover of novel and new experiences), perhaps it is rich of me to posture from my prolific assortment of life experiences. But had I not taken a step out of habitual step, I too would be standing at the comfort of my familial door looking outside in wonderment, dreaming about how this or that might feel like, listening or reading about other peoples incredible journeys and life experiences.

Everything in our natural landscape reminds us that diversity enriches our lives, yet we are still so afraid of wandering into unchartered territory. If you don’t like bananas, try an apple, if these fruits are boring to you, try dragon fruit, try mangoes, try a custard apple, hell even try durian if your sense of smell permits! If it’s legal, halal (permissible in Islam) and above board, we should all be striving to jump into life with our arms wide open, to embrace the fruits of all creation and we shouldn’t want to stop until our souls have traced every flower, every river, every ocean, every mountain, every race, every sunrise, every sunset, every tree, every animal, every book, every language, every culture, every cuisine, every fruit, every nook and cranny of this beautiful Earth.

The journeys and the experiences are endless, but you can’t “stop” until you start. How can we ever hope to arrive at our destination, if we are crippled by our self-imposed mental prisons and unable to step forwards to begin the journey in the first place?

A difference of opinion

Another thing we are so afraid of is differences of opinion – observe how much more content we are with keeping the company of those who nod along to everything we say or do like the Churchill insurance dog. How much more satisfied we are with our family and friends when they tell us what we want to hear instead of what we need to hear.

When we disagree with our family or friends, we get angry, we become confused, we become stubborn to reasoning. In truth, three simple probabilities exist: you can both be right and still co-exist or you can be wrong sometimes and right sometimes! If we concerned ourselves more with the quality of someone’s heart, their actions and their good deeds, we’d be less troubled by the differing opinions held by others.

Take this simple example: a numerical figure of 6 can be drawn on the ground – if I stand at the top end, I will behold a number 9 from where I’m standing, if my friend stands at the curved bottom of the 6, she will say no it’s a 6. Is it not then possible for us to both be correct in some instances? Why is our focus on the difference so strong that we begin to feel our very existence threatened by challenge and opposition?! Our need for being right and oppressing others with our version of the truth is poisoning not only our societies but ourselves.

What a crazy self-imposed limitation to our personal growth and development! No wonder we live in a world growing in intolerance and non-acceptance of the “other”. We’d rather wear tunnel vision goggles than stand a moment in another person’s shoes, we’d rather pass judgement on how someone else lives without a passing thought for the physical, social, psychological construct that has shaped that individual, we’d rather agree to disagree than expand or broaden our own perspectives by enriching ourselves from the knowledge and life experiences of others.

A fitting quote from one of my all-time favourite philosophers is this: “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Contained within each of us are individual experiences unique to us, if only we saw each other as diamonds of different colours, carats, clarity and cuts, we’d surely be more eager to collect and learn from one another rather than run towards an ironic solace of ignorance. There is hidden and overt beauty in all of creation, the choice is ours – whether we are too afraid to open our eyes, our hearts and minds to all that surrounds us, whether we can find it within ourselves to shake off these shackles, break up with our doubts, our fears and walk into the unknown with excitement, courage and newfound inspiration for all the untouched beauty that surrounds and awaits us. Or whether we are happy inside this bubble, inside this small, safe space where we confine and convince ourselves that we are right, we hold the only truth.

I know which side of the line I’d rather be – the side that includes everything, everywhere and everyone.

Thank you for reading – I wish you an inspired onwards journey.