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Celebrating Diversity And Rejecting My View Alone Is Correct

Human brains are structured to seek novelty. It is this that manifests as inquisitiveness and the creativity that makes for the diversity in scientific and cultural advances. This again is the trait that is exploited by the media, the advertising agencies, and the consumer industries in constantly changing the appearance of products to retain their appeal. So pervasive is this thirst for novelty that one would expect the celebration of diversity to be a natural component of human behavior. Why then do we see so much racial, ethnic, religious and class conflict? If humans seek diversity, they are also possessive and protective of their real and imagined identities (both personal and social). In fact our identities are often defined in contrast to others. (‘we’ against ‘they’), and conflict tends to strengthen this identity. Most contemporary wars have strong ethnic and religious components.

Contrasting one’s identity with others would not in itself have been harmful but for the fact that we always tend to judge our ‘in group’ more favorably and attribute negative traits, faults, and shortcomings to ‘others’. This may be a way of enhancing one’s self-esteem, but in the social sphere (where it is termed ‘the ultimate attribution Error’) the consequences can be devastating. All chauvinism, fundamentalism, and prejudice can be traced back to this tendency.

Another related source of prejudice is the tendency to stereotype. We structure our understanding of social groups into fixed categories which we then use to judge all members of the concerned groups. Moreover, we take greater notice of facts which support our beliefs and ignore contradictory details, and this in turn keeps strengthening the stereotype. While positive stereotypes can only lead to disappointment, negative ones form the seeds of hate and discriminatory behavior.

How do we get over these propensities? Recognition of their presence would be a vital first step. The dogmatic ‘my view alone is correct’ attitude is one thing that Sri Ramakrishna consistently protested. The ability to consider, let alone appreciate, an alternate viewpoint is a capacity that needs careful nurture if we are to get over, at least partially, the cultural blindness that is so ubiquitous. A deeper – and for some, more radical – approach would lie in the practice of building cross-cultural contacts. When done skillfully, this should give us the ability to see things through the eyes of others without losing our own moorings.

But for this to happen we must first recognize diversity. Recognition is different from seeing. Diversity is manifest everywhere. But recognition grants it validity. And this process must begin at the individual level, for it is individuals that are involved in the construction of the abstract entity that is culture.

SourceExcerpts from Editorial of Prabuddha Bharata Magazine October 2006 issue.