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Cultural Diversity: Towards A Whole Society

adapted from an article by Mara Hurwitt

"In Germany they first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, andI didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me - and by that time no one was left to speak up." - Rev. Martin Niemoller Celebrating Diversity Look around and you will see that our society is very diverse. Diversity enriches our lives. Much as the biological diversity of an ecosystem increases its stability and productivity, cultural diversity brings together the resources andtalents of many people for the shared benefit of all. Sadly, the differences among us have historically formed the basis of fear, bigotry, and even violence. Yet consider how dull life would be if we all looked alike, thought alike, and acted alike! By learning to recognize our similarities and appreciate our differences, together we can overcome prejudice and intolerance and work towards a morepeaceful and productive world. People may fear diversity simply because they are accustomed to the way things used to be and change makes them uncomfortable. Others may somehow feel threatened because they perceive

increased participation by traditionally underrepresented groups in the workplace and the political process as a challenge to their own power. If left unaddressed, these fears canlead to resentment and bigotry. However, these fears can often be countered through education. Dr. Samuel Betances, professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University and noted author and lecturer offers this observation: "Education universalizes the human spirit. You cannot be universalized if you are only in one world, the world of your ethnic group, the world of your neighborhood, the worldof your religion, or the world of your family. The word ‘university’ is related to this idea. Our lives are enhanced when we understand and appreciate many worlds. It has been said that if you gain a new language, you gain a new world. I believe that the reverse is also true: if you lose a language, you lose a world. When our spirit is universalized, we can cross boundaries and feel comfortable inother worlds. We can teach and learn from others in a mutually supportive effort to acquire a profound respect for the human condition." Unlike assimilation - where everyone's differences are lost in a giant melting pot - multiculturalism advocates the idea that maintaining our different cultural identities can enrich us and our communities. Multiculturalism does not promote ethnocentrism or seekto elevate one cultural identity above another. Instead, it celebrates diversity by allowing us to value our individual heritages and beliefs while respecting those of others. Respect for each others' cultural values and belief systems is an intrinsic part of cultural diversity. Lack of respect is often based on ignorance or misinformation. If you do not understand another's values, lifestyle, orbeliefs, it is much easier to belittle them. And so the seeds of prejudice and intolerance are sown.

The Roots of Intolerance "Tolerance and human rights require each other" - Simon Wiesenthal People can be categorized in many ways, such as by gender, race, religion, ethnicity, language, income, age, or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, these categories are sometimes used to label peopleunfairly or to saddle them with stereotypes. Stereotypes are generalized assumptions concerning the traits or characteristics of all members of a particular group. They are frequently (although not always) negative and generally incorrect. Ironically, negative stereotypes discourage closer contact, preventing the perpetrator from

discovering what the individual victims of these stereotypes are...
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