Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Embrace Being Different

Written by johnleemk on 12:31:57 pm Aug 20, 2007.

Diversity is a common buzzword these days. Almost everybody (well, everybody that wants to be seen as civilised) claims to be for diversity.

But what exactly does diversity mean? Does it mean hiring a token religious minority for a show of tolerance, or ostentatiously playing up the ostensibly varied ethnic composition of your university?

Or maybe it means something less obviously politically correct, like making your website accessible to the disabled, or providing translations of your advertising material in fifty different languages?

In my view, all these actions, though they may carry merit in themselves, miss the point of "diversity". They focus on by-products of true diversity as if these by-products were ultimate goals in themselves.

One of my favourite things to do is to think in terms of probabilities, because they often are a more accurate abstraction of the real world.

If you think about it hard enough, it makes no sense for every group to have a population that roughly, let alone accurately reflects the proportion of different communities in the general population at large.

Statistically speaking, the expected result is just that — a perfectly representative group — but in statistics, like in all fields, normal words can carry different meanings. The expected result is typically the most likely result; it is not the outcome 100% of the time.

Focusing on by-products of diversity is thus ultimately a pointless effort, because it is an effort that attempts to boil down differences into variables that don't really mean anything.

It is a given fact that every human being is different, unique. The hallmark of embracing diversity, then, is to embrace our differences from one another.

This does not seem to say very much, and may even be confusing in light of how I have pooh-poohed focusing on things like ethnic, religious, etc. differences.

But that is because focusing on these differences ultimately allows us to pretend to be diverse without really accepting our differences. We just stereotype people of different groups and labels, so we can speak of different groups, rather than different individuals.

These simplifications also on occasion harm, rather than help, diversity. In a western society, where whites are predominant, you might think it would aid "diversity" at a law firm to hire a black, rather than white, employee.

But if the black applicant graduated from Harvard Law School, like everyone else in the firm, where he got in because his parents were alumni, while the white applicant graduated from Yale Law School after self-financing his education by doing odd jobs, which applicant would really contribute different perspectives and ideas to the firm?

That is what diversity means — embracing the different thinking styles, different cultures, different attitudes, of different people. Embracing different skin colours, different religious symbols — what good is that if all the while you only embrace those who think the same way, work the same way, play the same way?

It's pointless to throw the word "diversity" around unless we can actually do the phrase justice. We cannot be bogged down in the simplistic approach of treating different individuals the same way just because they can be grouped differently under certain arbitrary classification systems. We have to embrace and accept each other for who we are — as different individuals.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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