“Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day.” ~ Melissa Etheridge
I didn't realize how exceptionally open-minded, inclusive and forward thinking my parents were until I became an adult. My father and mother had an extraordinary group of close friends. These people were vastly intelligent, successful, creative and dynamic. I grew being surrounded by men and women who had grown to prominence in their fields through hard work and inestimable charisma. These friends were of every color in the rainbow of human existence. Some were gay and some were straight. My childhood was not only a melting pot of talents, but also of backgrounds and lifestyles. When people, today, say they are "color blind", I know that there are those who take umbrage with that fact. Yet the way I was raised was not to ignore the color of a person's skin, their age, or their lifestyle choices, but to look within them...to see our commonalities and our bonds. Diversity, when I was growing up, wasn't even a buzz word yet. It was simply how we lived our lives; appreciating people whose company we enjoyed, whom we cherished and who were important to us. I didn't grow up color blind. I grew up looking for friends in whom my heart felt comfortable.
What I've come to realize, as an adult, is that without diversity, life is unbearably bland. In my Theology class, we have a wide variety of backgrounds, age groups, birth nations, financial situations, talents, political leanings and life experiences. Some have their lives already dedicated to church ministry professionally and personally. Others are lay people in various stages of spiritual quests. A group of 10 people with seemingly little in common, but our shared commitment to the class, began in September. In February, we are our own special, unique and deeply caring community. We are there for one another and our differences of opinion make for fascinating intellectual conversation and exploration. Had we all been in the same mindset, our study of Church history, Philosophy, Old and New Testaments and Ancient history would have been dull. It's the wide ranging interests, areas of expertise (or ignorance, in my own case), and perspectives that give our discussions regarding our readings for the week their zest. My class is respectful, curious, inquisitive, opinionated and dedicated. We range in age of from our 30's to our 80's...with every decade represented. We are teachers, artists, ministers, Brothers, mothers, people in the business world and people at home. We are all different, but that makes our community far more intriguing.
My one area of intolerance happens to be ironic: I'm deeply uncomfortable with those who are intolerant themselves. I find all my compassion, my heart for the world and my inner kindness to turn into something bitter and angry when confronted with nasty people. It's an area I'm working on and struggling with, but it remains a place in my heart that is hardened. I've been in situations in which several women (with whom, on paper, I should everything in common) were mean-spirited towards the daughter of a gay friend of mine during a ballet recital dress rehearsal. I have seen people judge a handicapped woman harshly because of the 'inconvenience' of accommodating her. I have heard rude remarks, by a highly educated woman, about the religion I was born into, as well as had anti-Semitic remarks directed to my family. I have born witness to every kind of wretched, ignorant and bigoted train of thought. I have answered back sharply. I have rebuked. I have ignored. I have held grudges. I have let things go. Most of all, over the years, I've learned to pick my battles. I've discovered when to fight and when to retreat in disgust. I have determined with whom to place my friendship and from whom to withdraw it. Initially, the idea of withdrawing friendship seemed to be cut from the same cloth as bigotry. I was uncomfortable with stooping to the same level. And yet, how could I choose to remain friends with people whose mindsets weren't a sign of 'diversity' or 'difference of opinion' but hatred and aggression?
The answer for me, in all of this, is forgiveness. When a person is simply ignorant and has their own issues of insecurity, this person may lash out in fear of the unknown. If that individual continues to grow, to develop and to seek out knowledge....especially about situations she doesn't understand....I believe forgiveness is well in order. I, myself, am far from perfect. I've been rude, unkind and unjust. My impulsive nature has gotten the better of me far too many times. But, through all of that, I've been shown mercy and forgiveness myself when I've actively worked to regain the trust of those I've hurt. It may not be my responsibility to chase after people to educate them, nor is it appropriate for me to require every single person I meet to think just like I do. However, I do have a duty to listen, to comment and to forgive, if forgiveness is warranted.
Through all of this, I have to count my blessings. I have the most exceptional friends any woman could hope for. They are all over the globe, and they are broad ranging in talents, backgrounds, ages, interests and life choices. The fact that they care about me is humbling and mind boggling. I feel like the weakest, dullest link in a beautifully luminous, interwoven chain. I feel profound gratitude to be counted among them....and I realize how vivid my life is because of its