In Diversity There is Beauty and There is Strength
It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.
This afternoon we had a pretty intense conversation on the topic of diversity. We have been friends for over four years and have now worked closely together for nearly a year. And even though we know each other deeply—very deeply—there is still so much to learn about how we each respond, react, and think. The focus of our conversation today had to do with celebrating each other’s uniqueness.
As much as we have in common, every once in a while we run up against the fact that we have been created differently—as every human being is. For example, I (Tom) tend to see the world and see my life through the lens of creating results. Therefore, many of the decisions we make regarding our non-profit are based on what will advance our sustainability. On the other hand, I (Michael) tend to place a higher value on the process rather than the bottom line. Though we have the same end result in mind, the way we get there sometimes varies. In recognizing that, and being sensitive to, and incorporating each other’s strengths in reaching the goal, we find that we maximize the relationship, the process, and the end result. They are all better for it.
We live in a world which makes it really hard to value and affirm what each of us brings to the common good. It’s hard for us to stand in each other’s shoes and see the world the way they do. We are all inclined, because it’s easier, to view the world from our own individual perspective. It’s hard to get into someone else’s mind, to see through their eyes, to enter into their experiences, and to share in their brokenness. But when we do, it can enable us to grow. And while growth can be painful and uncomfortable at times, it can result in us becoming stronger, more empathetic, and more forgiving. It is in that growth where we can find ourselves becoming closer to others—finding the common ground that we share and treasuring the distinctive gifts we have been given.
A few Christmases ago my (Michael’s) grandmother offered me a box filled with photos, some from more recent years, of people I instantly knew, some very old from many decades ago, black and white, of people I’d never met.
One particular photo stood out in my grandmother’s collection. It stood out as an embodiment of who she was and the sense of compassion she contributed to instilling in me.
It was a faded color photograph taken in the summer, of my younger sister Carol and me, around the age of five, standing in bare feet on our backyard patio, wearing our bathing suits. In between us stood a young girl, a head taller than I, in white shorts and a flowered top. I don’t recall her name after so many summers gone by. But I know where she was from – New York City. She was African-American, living with my grandmother and grandfather for two weeks that summer. She had come to them via the Fresh Air Program, designed to give inner-city children the experience of living in the country, spending time closer to nature and with another family, a cross-cultural experience.
I don’t remember how many years my grandparents welcomed a child from the big city. But I remember well the years growing up looking forward and being excited about the new friends I would make for a few fun weeks each summer, wondering who would be coming from the exotic, unfamiliar city and how they would like the quiet, small Pennsylvania village – with no other people of color – in which we lived.
The faded photo in the box, of us in our bathing suits with our inner-city friend, speaks volumes about my grandmother’s long life of selfless, committed service. Her example, observed over my lifetime, has in no small way – actually a very significant way – made a profound impact on my service as a pastor, a counselor and as a writer. It’s taught me compassion, sensitivity to others who are not as privileged as I, patience with those whose lives are in turmoil. It’s helped me tremendously as a father of my own child with developmental and physical disabilities. My grandmother’s life, reflected and summarized by the presence of a young inner-city girl in that faded decades-old photo, has influenced mine in ways I am still coming to know.
Both of us, over time, are continually learning how to place a high value on other people’s perspectives, contexts, experiences, cultures, and views. We are continually learning how to celebrate everyone’s own uniqueness, including our own, and how they see the world. But we also realize how difficult and challenging it can be at times to honor those distinctions, especially when we don’t understand them.
Ultimately, it’s in having intense conversations like the one we just had together, that we grow to love, respect and value one another even more deeply, both professionally and personally. In that there is beauty and there is strength.