Diversity perspective

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I've been thinking about the issue of diversity lately. Actually, there is a reason for this muddled thought process. Serving on yet another community committee, we have been told to stress the issue of diversity to better grasp our issues and to get a more well-rounded and wider scope of thoughts and solutions.

Now I understand diversity and appreciate the power that differing opinions can achieve to mold a final product. And I am a proponent of diversity when it brings different perspectives to the table in search of an answer.

But my problem is this: When we talk of the subject, we tend to gravitate solely to racial diversity. And though there are obvious benefits to this process, diversity means much more than racial makeup. I think we may have lost sight of this.

Diversity can take countless forms: income diversity, educational diversity, neighborhood diversity, religious diversity, age diversity, gender diversity. The list is virtually endless because our differences in many cases are virtually endless.

When a community attacks an issue, what to me is important is that differing perspectives come together in a common goal. Quite often those differing perspectives take the form of racial makeup. But when we focus solely on skin color, I fear we too often ignore other areas of diversity that are equally important.

By way of example, at a recent meeting a small group sat together who could best be described as constant complainers. These folk -- though good people with good intentions -- seem to complain about all issues large and small. To my way of thinking, these people see nothing but half-empty glasses in every aspect of their lives.

Yet it was this small group who saw some of the problems more clearly than many of us who too often wear rose-colored glasses. You may not want to hear what they have to say, but if you'll listen, you'll learn something and find some direction toward a common goal and eventually a solution.

Now that fits my definition of diversity. Their racial makeup was definitely not diverse. It was their perspective honed from their experiences that made them valuable to the process. It was their diversity of opinion that made them valuable.

Racial diversity -- more often than not -- focuses on issues of race. And we most definitely in this country need to focus on issues of race and equality and fairness and mutual respect. Let my words not diminish that extremely important and often ugly aspect of our society.

But the fact is that some issues and some solutions are not racial in nature. They are components of a larger question and a larger need in search of a larger solution. These issues demand diversity of thought and opinion and eventually solution. But I'm afraid we have lost our perspective when we discuss diversity.

I have been called names because of these thoughts. I have been unfairly branded. But I remain adamant. As one who has worked years for community solutions and regional problems, I fully appreciate the importance of diversity. I just define the term differently perhaps.

Michael Jensen is a Southeast Missourian columnist and publisher of the Standard Democrat in Sikeston, Mo.

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