Monday, November 30, 2009

Diversity: What does it really mean?

I just caught a snippet of a commercial espousing the virtues of diversity and it occurred to me just how bass ackwards the whole concept has become.

Suppose you have three people in an office. One likes hard rock, one likes hip hop and one likes country music. Each hates the other two types of music. That's diversity. They may agree to tolerate the other types so that they may have their turn to select their music, but a general mish-mash of the three would satisfy nobody.

Everyone pretending to like everything is not diversity. It's conformity. Conformity breeds mediocrity. The pursuit of one's passion breeds excellence. You can't excel at anything if you adopt the mindset that everything is just as interesting as everything else.

Diversity in a society is a healthy thing. Allowing others to indulge their likes so long as they allow you to indulge yours is tolerance. A willingness to try new things is good. Being compelled to accept everything as equal in value is not.

Maintaining diversity doesn't require convincing everyone that everything is great. It just requires that everyone accept that you don't have to rid the world of something just because you don't like it. For example, if I live to be 5,000 years old, I will never understand why some people will pay $2,500 or even 25 cents to go see Barbara Striessand in concert. However, I don't feel compelled to put a stop to it, unless I were forced to attend such a concert in the name of some convoluted diversity training.

Diversity also means that you don't define someone by a single aspect of their character. I may get along great with a big country music fan in other areas that we agree on. Once I know a whole lot more about somebody, I can assess the pros and cons and determine the extent to which I can tolerate or enjoy their company.

Of course, diversity is often used in terms of race and sexual orientation. Disliking someone because of their ethnic make-up is stupid. Pretending to like someone because of their ethnic make-up is equally stupid. Hating someone, or denying them equal rights because they're gay is dumb. Expecting me to march in a parade in celebration of their gayness is just as dumb.

If you want to celebrate diversity, be yourself. Let others be themselves. If someone else being themselves is really getting under your skin, leave. If it's your house, ask them to leave. If you're in a situation where neither of you can leave and you can't come to some mutually acceptable accommodation, well, that's when diversity gets entertaining for the rest of us.

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