After two weeks of studying pluralism and diversity, I found some things which may have been going awry. The first misstep, in my opinion, is having a closed definition of diversity. This is clearly an oxymoron. Diversity means that all voices are heard. Nobody would say that living in a pluralist society comes automatically, especially when this is growing out of a limited and provincial one. Our habit of thinking that there have to be limits on what folks can do or we’ll have chaos comes back to haunt us. The problem of course is that chaos can take over, but that happens only when principles and morality are identified as elements that cannot contribute to the public good at all. What seems to be lacking is the will to acknowledge that a level playing field is needed to allow everyone even footing.
I know that I cannot possibly agree with everybody on every subject, and in acknowledging this, I can either become angry or find like-minded persons with whom I can form a community. When each community is allowed to speak freely, then we have a pluralistic society, simply speaking, that is.
Allowing someone to speak freely does not mean agreement must follow. This may very well be the biggest hurdle that many of us have to face. Sooner or later, we’ll all have to hear somebody express an opinion that we feel is wrong. In the end, however, if civil and free society is to be upheld, all of us should remember to follow the “arm’s length” rule. No person or group should expect that they will totally dominate the public conversation. The principle of domination or supremacy should be set aside. As someone once said: “I come to serve and not be served . . .” My opinions are not a political agenda!
Here often comes the question of shared or national identity: how can a nation exist that allows every religion and every lifestyle a free run? This oneness, this unity, has to be based on ideas that transcend every group’s perspective and yet do not violate them. These elements can only be identified by true and open dialogue.
Dialogue. In the Antique World, old Greece and Rome, there was an ideal of dialogue where participants came to identify what was true. This does not mean that the Truth, uppercase ‘T’, would be found, but rather the truth of everybody’s beliefs would become clear. Everyone would then have to face up to the ‘holes’ or faults in their arguments, and see that we need each other to keep each other honest and have clearer thinking. No echo chambers allowed!
Shared principles and shared beliefs are the foundation on which a national culture can be built. This underlines the importance of a true and sincere conversation. In practical terms this means the next time that I hear something I don’t like, to ask “how come I do not like it?”