I recently listened to an op-ed on cultural diversity. Although mentioned now and then, it never truly addressed the cultural change many of us have gone through and are continuing to go through.
• I am a white, retired, professional living in a long settled rural part of Ontario. I hope I take people as they come, but as with many humans, also seem to have a tendency to be leery of groups that aren’t mine.
• I was brought up in what most would call a small town. At that time, the town wasn’t too diverse.
• I attended university in a medium sized city and there started to meet people of different cultures. Luckily my parents fostered an ethic of listening to everyone so these 4 years were a great time of learning. My understanding of differences grew.
• I first worked in Toronto, joined some different groups and again, broadened my knowledge of differences.
• Marriage; often a huge look at a very different ethic.
• My longest working stint was in one of the oldest settled parts of Ontario where two (possibly three) cultures live in relative harmony.
• My profession was heavily male oriented but about half a generation after I began, I had many respected, capable, business friends from all stripes. I served on a number of committees (provincial and country) where we were working through common problems. The membership was very diverse but the aims were the same.
• By the time I was raising a family of my own, the diversity of names on the backs of team sweaters had expanded well beyond that of the area’s original settlers. My children’s friends added to the variety.
• My daughter chose my profession.
Humans live in groups. Our groups are fluid and situational:
• my (children’s) school vs the next school over;
• my town’s local team vs the neighbouring town’s team;
• my marching band vs the band to the north.
• my church vs the one in the next county
People in one “vs” group often are in one of “my” other groups so the group isn’t based on anything other than it’s another group.
Humans developed in small groups and have always used caution when approaching another group. That caution is deep within our makeup.
The nearby city (again what many would call small town) is much more diverse than you’d expect.
• the two official languages are spoken and understood.
• there is a first nation presence
• more recent settlers wear all the vestments of their former home.
We’re getting there.
To truly become an accepting society requires work and time. Discussions on accepting diversity can turn into rants by those demanding full acceptance now. This is quite often coupled with some scolding.
We need time to learn – all of us. In the case of different cultures, that means mixing and understanding. I believe our challenge is to become part of enough diverse groups to become familiar with differences. By dealing with others, we can overcome the distrust of any differences.
In other words it is a journey and journeys take time and effort.