Ian Cooper

Diversity is our strength because it makes us uncomfortable

Ian Cooper
Diversity is our strength because it makes us uncomfortable

Photo by Alexandre Chambon

Diversity makes us stronger has been a frequent rallying cry in response to the increasingly public displays of racism and xenophobia in our nation. It’s a beautiful sentiment—but how exactly does it work in practice?

The way I see it: diversity makes us stronger because it makes us uncomfortable. In other words, all of the ugliness and hatred surfacing in America today is a sign that the experience of living in our multicultural, multiethnic society is having the best possible effect: shaking up our foundations and shattering our assumptions about who we really are. 

Everyone has a sense of how they think the world should be. This is inextricably tied up in our sense of ourselves: our history, our personality, our preferences, our beliefs, our bodies. Put it all together and we have something to hold on to—a place where we can say, “this is who I am and where I stand.” 

We start developing our worldview early on in childhood, so it typically reflects the culture we grew up in. But when we meet people who think differently than we do, or who come from different cultures or faiths or even just look different, that inherently challenges our worldview. Suddenly, we’re forced to confront the fact that our perspective on who we are and how things ought to be—our place to stand—isn’t universal but fragile: just one of many. 

We start to feel the cracks appearing in what once seemed solid and comforting.

This can be really frightening. It’s human nature to want to have something to hold on to, and it’s the nature of life to slowly, relentlessly teach us that such a thing doesn’t exist. Because our worldview is so much a part of our sense of self, a challenge to that worldview doesn’t just feel intellectually threatening, it feels dangerous on a personal level.

There are two ways to approach that fear. One is to lash out at the people who make us feel threatened. We’ve seen a great deal of that in our country. It’s an understandable response, but one that causes a great deal of pointless pain and suffering to everyone involved.

Besides, we’re really just lashing out against the way things are: that we don’t really have a permanent self or anywhere solid to stand. The people who are different from us are teachers reminding us of that. Bless them. 

The other approach is to embrace that truth—to surrender to the reality underneath our fears, and just let go. We can accept that no matter how cherished our values, culture, beliefs or even our bodies, they are just waves crashing on the sand—glorious for a breath before coming home to the formless, endless ocean. 

That might seem scary. But if we learn we can’t stand anywhere, we can be comfortable everywhere.

Our diverse society gives us daily opportunities to ease into this reality and help us see the truth because we’re constantly confronted with people clearly opposing our worldviews. In a more homogenous community, such confrontations might be more subtle and easier to ignore, but in contemporary America, there really isn’t anywhere to hide. 

That means we either suffer, like the folks determined to fight diversity in its infinite forms, or we go with it and find more peace. We live in a time of wonderful opportunity for awakening, if we are willing to see it that way.

Ian is a writer and the founder and editor of Open Heart Beginner's Mind.