Unity in diversity – FBO Nel February 2018

Unity in Diversity

World Religion Day Sunday 11th February 2018
(hosted by George Baha’)

I thank you for the invitation to say a few words on the topic: Unity in Diversity.

Diversity is a given, and can be found in the whole of creation. Biologists classify organisms into genus, species and family. We, as humans, are classified under the genus Homo (meaning man), and the species sapiens (meaning wise). We are members of a large family called the great apes, with our closest relative being the chimpanzee.

The group Homo sapiens is very diverse in many aspects, such as religion, language, culture, the colour of our skin (ethnicity), economic status and educational status.

Unity can be found when there is mutual acceptance of each other’s identity and humanity.

What prevents mutual acceptance and acceptance of other people’s identity?

Our ability to quickly assess situations and our social environment goes hand in hand with our ability to categorise the world around us. Even toddlers have the ability to classify and categorise as a way to organise their world. Part of our categorisation process is to help us understand where we belong, what to expect from others, and how to behave in certain circumstances.

Unfortunately, this social categorisation of our world easily leads to stereotyping, which is closer to being a judging mechanism. It creates “us” and “them” categories.  Social categories and stereotyping help us to interact effectively with our social reality. So, there are many benefits attached to it. Stereotyping is a filtering mechanism and helps with self-preservation.

To find some unity within diversity requires us to think about ourselves in a certain way. Our self-perception is linked to our perception of others. The more our self-image depends on the social categories to which we belong, the more our categorisation process will separate us from others.

We can move more easily between different groups when we allow our social identity to be permeable. The more we move between different groups, the more we will tend to be open to other groups – and the less we will stereotype others.

Diversity does NOT necessarily mean adversity has to follow. Unity does not mean we are the same, but that we acknowledge the other as being equally important.

What must we do to find unity in our diversity?

  • Embrace diversity as something that can enrich our lives.
  • We have to be aware of our tendency to categorise, and eventually to stereotype, other groups and individuals. This awareness should push the alarm buttons in our head when we fall into the trap of stereotyping others.
  • Each of us has a shadow side to ourself, where our prejudices against other groups tend to grow. We should actively look at ways to expose that side of ourselves.
  • We actively need to look for similarities. If we can find nothing in common, we can acknowledge that we are all Homo sapiens (I think there are no aliens in our midst).
  • We are called upon to think about who we are and why we identify ourselves with a certain group. Who will we be if that group ceases to exist?
  • Make an effort to cross the boundaries between groups.
  • Are there benefits to unity while accepting our diversity?
  • Unity can make us stronger to stand against stereotyping in society.
  • Unity can help to build a more peaceful society.
  • Unity can also help to build a more just society.
  • Unity can inspire us to become a more caring society.

 

I want to close by repeating a previous sentence:

Unity can be found when there is mutual acceptance of each other’s identity and humanity.

I believe that this meeting of representatives of different religions is a practical demonstration of how unity in diversity can be created.

Thank you.

Frederik B O Nel

Sources:

Engelstein, Stefani 2018. How the Idea of Family Relationships Shaped Racial Thought. Aeon Newsletter 5/02/2018 www.aeon.co/ideas/ how the idea of family relationships shaped racial thought

Harari, Yuval Noah 2011. Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind. London: Vintage Books

Van Zijl, Albertus Johannes De Mist 2017. “Lovingly” Objectifying the Other? A Critical Description of the Role Identity of the Dutch Reformed Church, in Light of Their Relational Dynamics with “The Other” in a Multiracial and Unjust South African Society. A Dissertation Submitted to Free State University in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the degree of Master in Reconciliation and Social Cohesion.

Unity in Diversity

World Religion Day Sunday 11th February 2018