The True Meaning of Cultural Diversity
Cultural diversity refers to the existence of a wide variety of cultural or ethnic groups living, learning, and peacefully residing in unity within the same society. Culture, in and of itself, is what shapes us. The cultures that we are most exposed to, nurture and develop our thinking as we are immersed in their thoughts, ideals, and values. Inevitably, these aspects of culture will influence our behavior and shape us into the individuals we are today. Culture refers to our language, religion, values, norms, and behaviors that are passed down generation by generation. An ethnicity, although close, is not a particular culture. An ethnic group may contain many different cultures that are classified by language, religion, and ancestry. Although many nations and institutions preach cultural diversity, in that there are many different cultures present in their society or environment, ultimately the definition and understanding of cultural diversity is more
complex than simply the abundance of different cultures in a given environment.
Cultural diversity is synonymous with the term multiculturalism. Multiculturalism, as understood by Sarah Song in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy “ is about how to understand and respond to the challenges associated with cultural and religious diversity.” Therefore simply sharing a living space with those who associate themselves with different cultures does not qualify as being culturally diverse. In order to uphold the standard of cultural diversity one must also accept, understand, and respect other cultures. Not only through verbal advocacy must it be obvious that the society welcomes all cultures, but also in the way they structure, build, educate, and enact laws and regulations throughout the different aspects of the community. Song continues to advocate that multiculturalism “rejects the ideal of the ‘melting pot’ in which members of minority groups are expected to assimilate into the dominant culture…” Instead of assuming or expecting others to, in a sense, give up their native culture in exchange for the culture they are integrating into, we should welcome those of different cultures with open arms, and allow a bigger globally unifying culture to emerge. It should be the norm, not the exception, that societies allow cultures to flourish and live freely throughout their communities.
Cultural diversity brings about positive growth in a society, as it introduces multiple ways of addressing different situations. When a society is able to attentively listen to the thoughts, characters, opinions, and values of all groups, they will see the true capacity that humanity has. It takes unity and acceptance in order to build a culturally diverse global community.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh (founder of the Bahá’í faith) and Centre of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant, as well as the appointed interpreter of the Bahá’í Revelation, shared the following analogy in relation to the importance of diversity,
“Consider the flowers of a garden. Though differing in kind, color, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm and addeth unto their beauty. How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruit, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and color! Diversity of hues, form and shape enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof. In like manner, when divers shades of thought, temperament and character, are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest,” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 41).
A beautiful garden has plants of all shapes, sizes, and colors. It is bright, vibrant, and beautiful. A garden that continually only has the same type of plant over and over, is dangerous, it lacks diversity and isn’t equip for survival. Humanity is the same. Societies that are isolated, that fear and reject diversity eventually find themselves stagnant, needing to open up and reach out. However, like ‘Abdu’l-Bahá brings to our attention, when the ideas and institutions and societal normalities come from diverse origin and are built taking into account the values of all cultures, the benefits to humanity are manifold.
Cultural diversity is the notion that all people, regardless of cultural background, have the potential to make a positive contribution to society; because of the differences each individual brings to the table. A cultural diverse society recognizes, respects, and acknowledges the immense value that varying cultural platforms and ideas are able to add to the overarching community. Dr. Lisa D. Belfield, an adjunct professor working in the Purdue Global Human Services Department, in her article What is Cultural Diversity?, addresses the reason why cultural diversity should be considered a good thing. Dr. Belfield states that “…cultural diversity helps us recognize and respect ‘ways of being’ that are not necessarily our own, so that as we interact with others we can build bridges to trust, respect, and understanding across cultures.” Here she is advocating that by embracing other cultures we are able to better connect with those around us. Through understanding each others’ cultures we create greater opportunity for friendship and mitigate the chance of misunderstanding and argumentative disagreement. Dr. Belfield continues to write on how we, as individuals in a society, are able to support cultural diversity. She asserts that one effective way we are able to show our support is to “Increase your level of understanding about other cultures by interacting with people outside of your own culture…” In order to battle the underlying fear that apposes cultural diversity, we must steer away from ignorance. If we work to educate ourselves, take personal responsibility in understanding those cultures surrounding us, we are able to fight ignorance and ward off the fear that blocks society from reaching its true longing, which is to diversify. We are better able to protect ourselves, our peers, and our society, when we stay informed and educated. Therefore, what better way to support unity in diversity than by increasing our knowledge base on the cultures that are outside our own?
Cultural diversity may seem as though it is simply when many different cultures are present in a society or environment, however, the definition and understanding of cultural diversity is more complex than simply the abundance of different cultures in a given environment. It is when communities as a whole are able to respect and understand the various different cultures that contribute to their society. Being culturally diverse implies that the society in which you reside takes into account and recognizes the great advancements that can be made when there are diverse contributions being made.
What are some ways to increase cultural diversity and awareness in the community? Let us me by leaving a comment down below!
Song, Sarah, "Multiculturalism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/multiculturalism/>.
Bahá’í Publishing Trust (1723), ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 41,
“Unity in Diversity.” Unity in Diversity | Bahá'í Quotes, bahaiquotes.com/subject/unity-diversity.
“What Bahá'ís Believe.” Quotations from 'Abdu'l-Bahá | What Bahá'ís Believe, www.bahai.org/abdul-baha/quotations.
Belfield, Lisa D. “Cultural Diversity in the United States.” Purdue Global, Purdue University Global, 18 Dec. 2012, www.purdueglobal.edu/blog/social-behavioral-sciences/what-is-cultural-diversity/.