Whether we like it or not we live in an ever-increasing diverse society. Some of us welcome this diversity with open arms, seeing in it the opportunities and excitement of being different, while others may be somewhat more resistant to it. This blog shall focus more on the latter and what can help us appreciate diversity better.
First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that we are prejudiced. Throughout our life, and through various experiences, we learned stereotyped beliefs that have formed the way we perceive and understand others who are different from us. Perhaps we assimilated such beliefs before we learnt how to think critically. Acknowledging that we have prejudices rather than denying them or feeling guilty about them is the first step to moving towards being more open to diversity.
We then need to challenge such prejudicial thoughts. Stereotypes and general statements about groups of people tend to be untrue. Learn about these groups you tend to feel prejudiced about – read and expose yourself to these groups, speak and listen to them and allow yourself to understand their points of view and beliefs.
Most of the time, our prejudice stems from fear. Anything that we are not used to, that is different from how we always knew it to be or from what we believe to be true, makes us feel unsafe and scared. Therefore, before embracing diversity, we need to develop a strong sense of security. When we feel secure about who we are and our beliefs, then we do not fear difference. On the contrary, we are more likely to welcome anybody with diverse views and ways of life since we will see this as complimenting and enriching what we know and are used to.
Once we stand firmly in who we are and what we believe in, then we are safe to know that one truth does not necessarily exclude someone else’s truth, no matter how different from each other they may be. Being able to accept diverse truths, which may actually be contradictory to each other, increases our tolerance for and acceptance of others. This will turn, facilitate being together in harmony, in spite of or because of, being so different.
When we feel secure in ourselves we do not feel the need to defend who we are or what we believe in, neither do we feel the need to blame others for having a different point of view or choosing to lead a different lifestyle. On the contrary, when we feel safe in ourselves, we are in a better position to be open to understand why someone else is different from us. Such openness may actually surprise us, especially if it leads us to an understanding that we are in fact not as different as we thought we might be. When we really allow ourselves to by-pass our differences and connect on a human level, regardless of age, sex, race, religion, etc., we will realise that we have more in common than we dare to admit. Try it!
Stephanie Caruana is a counsellor at Willingness. She offers counselling services to adolescents and adults experiencing some form of distress. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.