Friday, August 31, 2012

Diversity and Celebration

Celebrations are to be encouraged. When people get together for a special occasion, they are paying attention to something that is true all of the time but that deserves special attention at some specific time. Birthdays come to mind, of course, or anniversaries or memorials for loved ones. And there are the national holidays or school holidays or religious holidays. Each one celebrates a reality that has a past, a present, and a future. A celebration’s past consists of fond recollections, memories and love. “Remember when…?” Its present rests on appreciation, or thankfulness and even joy. “How amazing that …” And the future piece of a celebration is largely one of hope, of anticipation and confidence.  “I sure hope that …” Together, these three aspects give real life to a celebration.

This all comes to mind because of the fact that SJI International celebrated Racial Harmony Day this week. At their assembly, there was a prayer led by representatives of different faiths, followed by a “fashion show” of different costumes or dress from the various cultures represented in the school. Both students and staff participated by donning their unique outfits and parading down the middle of the Assembly Hall – on a proper runway – as their culturally distinctive clothing was described with appropriate detail and historical background.

Diversity is something that is both a blessing and an ongoing invitation to grow in understanding the “other” in our lives. The challenge is always one between unity and diversity, between those things that draw us together and those things that draw us apart. The advice by Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., is insightful: “It takes time; time and patience to listen to one another. It also requires reflection, the effort to understand each other. … Diversity need not make us mutually incomprehensible.”

The “other” can be looked at as either a rival or relative, someone who is against us or someone who is, finally and basically, one with us. The choice usually occurs at a pre-rational level, and the mind finds all sorts of ways to justify it. The fine thing, however, is that we indeed can change our perspective, either positively or negatively, and we do this through intentional practice which turns into habit which turns into conviction.

Abraham Lincoln is purported to have said: “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” This can also apply to our experience of diversity and racial harmony. Our appreciation of racial harmony will deepen as our attitudes and actions towards the “other” in our lives are shaped by intentional humility, openness, and a wide-souled dive into the mystery of the thing. Celebrations are one of the privileged opportunities for doing so.

And if you’re ever curious about how something like this should work, watch a diverse group of elementary school 4-year-olds playing together. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”