There was a time last year when my lungs started going on strike. Every breath became a rattling effort, and time only seemed to make it worse. So, like any sane person who can’t breath, I went to the doctor. She told me I had pneumonia, but was quick to add that she was very accepting of my unique breathing style and would support me in my new lifestyle. Then she sent me home.
Actually, that’s not what happened. The doctor (thankfully) did not tolerate the difference in my breathing. She gave me powerful medicine that effectively cleared my lungs and brought me back to non-rattly breathing just like everyone else.
Should I press charges against her? Was it discrimination for her to assume automatically that diversity in breathing is bad, and that we should all breath the same way? It was: She did, in fact, discriminate against my differences, and her discrimination may well have saved my life.
In these days when every idea has to fit into a sound-bite, it sounds wrong to say that her discrimination was good, or that a kind of diversity was killing me. Our discomfort comes from the fact that as a culture, we’ve collected a shorthand set of descriptive words and endowed them with the power to end debate. Discrimination is bad. Always. Who would ever argue for it? Diversity is good. Always. Who can say a word against it?
But what about the times when they aren’t?
Discriminating between what politicians and papers say and what is actually true is a skill we ought to encourage. We could even use that skill to discriminate between the times when diversity is helping us expand our horizons and the times when it is pushing us away from each other in ever-increasing individualistic isolation.
Diversity is not a good thing in itself any more than unity is a good thing in itself. When unity means people are working together towards a shared goal, it can be beautiful – but that doesn’t mean that the Act Of Union in 1800 was positive for most people in Ireland. Similarly, there are times when diversity is a benefit to everyone, but this assumes that we have at least some unity of common ground and shared goals; otherwise, diversity is just divisive. We meet with a group of local people each week to study the Bible, and these friends have come together from every continent on earth except Australia. The diversity of perspectives and experiences enriches our discussions greatly, and I wouldn’t trade it for any amount of comfortable sameness. I’m all for diversity. But I’m not only for diversity. A headlong pursuit of diversity for its own sake could end up leaving us with nothing to be unified about. There are forms of unity that are harmful, but the same can be true of diversity. It shouldn’t raise eyebrows to say that not every diverse choice and lifestyle and difference and belief is equally good or produces equally beneficial results for the people who have chosen them or the people around them – and yet the eyebrows do raise: Am I saying this because I’m some kind of [fill in the blank]-phobic? Once again, debate ends with the introduction of all-powerful describing words. I am not afraid of diversity. I am, however, afraid of a culture that can only speak in one-word arguments crafted to kill debate before it begins.
As Ireland pursues sweeping social change at an ever-quickening pace and rushes to redefine longstanding ideas about the fundamental nature of humans, rights, families, identities, and morality, do we really want to end discussion on these foundational realities with simple appeals to power words? Would it not be worth our time to have a thoughtful discussion and honest debate on the possible consequences of the diversity we are pursuing?