Diversity was never something I sought out when I was growing up. It wasn’t something I ever planned to engage with actively.
Until I reached college age, I didn’t realize that I spent most of my childhood and adolescence in a bubble. It wasn’t an issue to me that the majority of my friends were white and Judeo-Christian. It didn’t seem problematic that everyone (yes, everyone) around me was some brand of Republican or Libertarian. It didn’t occur to me that for the first 17 years of my life, I followed a familiar routine, ate familiar foods, practiced familiar hobbies, and associated almost exclusively with people I had known since childhood. I was aware of all this, of course, but it didn’t occur to me that there was a different way to live.
Moreover, I didn’t see any need for immediate change. I was content; things made sense. What need was there to do anything new? What need was there to introduce more challenge into my life?
What’s the Issue With a Bubble?
I’m sure a lot of people grew up similar to how I did. Everyone around you is just like you, or at least not sufficiently dissimilar to register as truly different. But what’s the issue with that?
When your hometown lacks diversity — diversity of race, diversity of culture, diversity of opinion — you don’t have much of an ability to expand your experience or expand your opportunities. You’re essentially stuck with what you have; what was available to you in childhood is most likely what’s still available to you in young adulthood.
If you stay in your hometown and your hometown alone into your adulthood, then you’re not able to glean the wisdom granted by different people, different cultures, and different ideas. In addition to that, and perhaps more dangerous, you may never learn to seek out diversity, to seek out new experiences. If you’ve spent your whole life content with your familiar surroundings, it can be incredibly difficult to find and develop the personal drive to challenge your assumptions, ideas, and way of life.
Why is Diversity Important?
So if seeking out and engaging with diversity is so difficult, so challenging, why do it at all? If we’re comfortable where we’re at, why do we need to change that?
I must admit that I’m swayed a bit by my bias. I went away for college, only because my first and second options (both local schools) rejected me and I settled on my third option out of spite. Little did I know that that snap decision would mark the end of 17 years spent in a personal bubble. Beyond my degree, my time in college yielded so many incredible benefits, not the least of which was a significantly more open mind. I know how my life is now, and I have a pretty good idea of what it would be like — and what kind of person I would be — had I never left for those four valuable years of education and self-exploration. I don’t want anyone to be that kind of person — the person I could have been.
So, I see myself as an escapee, a “survivor” of the hometown bubble and the dangerous comforts it can bring. A bit dramatic, I admit, but that’s the best way I can describe it.
But the question remains: why should you (and everyone else) embrace diversity in all forms? Let’s discuss some potential benefits.
Engaging Diversity Opens Up New Opportunities
Think of the phrase “expand your horizons.”
Horizons encapsulate all that we see, all that we perceive. Horizons sound massive, and usually, they are when we’re speaking in terms of skylines. But when we’re talking about personal horizons — about the limits of our perceptions, our own experiences — we’ll often find those horizons can be small and somewhat stunted, especially if we grew up in a bubble. We think we know a lot, we think we’ve seen a lot, and we believe our opinions are well-informed and well-thought-out. It’s easy to think these things when our frame of reference is limited.
Focusing on and engaging with diversity can help us expand those surprisingly tight horizons of ours. When we expose ourselves to a diverse set of ideas and people, we grow our foundational base of knowledge and experience. More importantly, I think, a focus on diversity can open our minds to opportunities that were previously unknown or even incomprehensible to us. These opportunities can be new hobbies, new aspirations, or even new passions.
For example, one of my newest passions in life is travel. Domestic, international, whatever — I yearn to travel as much as my schedule and budget allow. Travel allows me to, amongst other things, challenge my perceptions, open my mind to new experiences, new places, new cuisine, and meet people who are so, so very different from myself.
While I am currently quite passionate about travel, this wasn’t always the case. In high school, I had absolutely no yearning to go out and see the world. Other than my grandparents, I knew exactly zero people who had been outside the country. I still know several people from my hometown who have never even left the state. You see, my family never encouraged me to travel, and they were never huge on travel themselves, so it simply never became a goal of mine. I was aware that travel was something people did, something I could do, but because no one inside my bubble placed a special emphasis on it or had any particular interest in it, I didn’t either.
It wasn’t until I left my comfort zone in college that I learned what exactly I was missing. I met wonderful people from all over the world, from multiple continents. I met people younger than me who had been to more countries than I had states! Once I was out of the bubble of my hometown, and once I opened up my mind to those who had different lives and different ideas, I learned just what was out there waiting for me. I learned that my previous goals and aspirations for life were incomplete.
New Experiences Develop Your Humanity
A wider breadth of knowledge and experience begets wisdom, sympathy, and a greater understanding of your fellow man. All in all, it makes you a better person.
When you yearn to make diversity a cornerstone of your daily experience, then you’re bound to run into an abundance of people with marginally or wildly different lifestyles, views, opinions, religions, and cultural backgrounds. When you regularly expose yourself to people who are so different from you, you will hopefully begin to gain respect for, and an understanding of, them and their way of life.
If we’re engaging diversity correctly, we’ll recognize humanity regardless of how strange they seem to us.Tweet
An enhanced sense of empathy is particularly useful when interacting with those with whom you disagree about fundamental issues (like politics). It’s important to understand that no one is evil simply because their beliefs or ideas are offensive to you. Defaulting to absolutes like that tends to erase or obscure the humanity of the person you disagree with. Rather, try to understand why a person acts the way they act, why they believe what they believe. While I advocate open-mindedness, I don’t think all opinions or beliefs deserve a fair shake. That being said, if you’re going to disagree with something or someone, at least understand why you disagree.
How Do We Engage Diversity Day-to-Day?
Now that we have a bit of an idea of why diversity is important to our daily lives, what practices can we implement to ensure we’re focusing on and engaging with it as much as possible?
Here are a few things I focus on a daily and weekly basis to ensure I’m doing the most to diversify my outlook:
Travel as much as you can: When I say “travel,” understand that I’m speaking broadly. While extended trips to other countries are certainly a tremendous experience, even just taking a walk somewhere scenic can yield some great benefits. Make a regular effort to get out of the house and engage with new places and new experiences. Over time, doing so will help you learn a ton about yourself and about the world around you.
Talk to others, to anyone: Keep in mind that this suggestion is coming from someone who in no way excels at small talk. Still, I recognize its importance. You can always learn a ton by talking with someone, both about their unique perspective on life and how your perspective fits into the wider world. I suggest starting with co-workers or someone else who you’re friendly with but you’re not exactly friends. How do they see the world? What are their ambitions, and how are those ambitions shaped by their past, their culture? Don’t come out of the gate with these questions, but with a little bit of tact and after some rapport building here and there, start to introduce more depth into your conversations. Insight will follow.
Read, read, read — and do it widely: Reading is my main and most beloved hobby. I enjoy the stories, the characters, and the drama, but I also value reading because it’s a gateway to a variety of different perspectives. In lieu of travel and direct conversation, reading is probably the next best way to understand someone’s unique perspective, opinions, or fundamental way of life. I read as widely as I can — fiction, non-fiction, biographies, classics, contemporary works, black authors, white authors, male authors, female authors… everything. I’ll never truly understand what it’s like to be a woman, or a person of color, or a survivor of a warzone, but reading stories and accounts from people who are those things gives me just a glimpse into their life.
Food is a direct tap into other cultures: Food says so much about the culture of a given place or people. Eating a culture’s cuisine is perhaps the most intimate way to acquaint yourself with said culture’s tastes and pleasures, and if you can eat with a member of that culture, then all the better. Diversifying your approach to food and drink is also important when it comes to expanding the horizons of your palate. There’s such a rich variety of food out there, and a lot of it is both delicious and healthy. I’m always eager to eat new things, even if they sound weird or a bit unappetizing at first (in some cases, that’s how I know I’m choosing the exact right thing to eat). Keep in mind that I was on a strict diet of hamburgers, hot dogs, and baloney sandwiches throughout middle and high school. I shudder to think about where I’d be if I didn’t open my mind to the variety of food out there. I certainly wouldn’t be all that healthy; I know that.
A Daily Endeavor: Finding and Engaging Diversity
Did you grow up in a bubble as well? If so, what have you done to escape it? What actions are you taking to ensure that each day brings you new experiences, new insight, and new ways to think about your previous assumptions?
Diversity is all around us; we need to make a consistent effort to engage with it. Doing so opens us up to new opportunities, new insights, and new levels of empathy and understanding. You don’t need to live a jet-set lifestyle to experience diversity and all it has to offer. You need to get outside, step out of your comfort zone, and embrace the challenges and strangeness of the world around you.