By: David J. Smith, April 17, 2017

My talk today at Montgomery College today focused on diversity.  Titled, “Living in a Land of Diversity and How Not to Take it for Granted: The Implications for Peacebuilding,” I looked at how diversity is important to our society, can at times be viewed negatively, and examined ways  we can make it meaningful in our lives. Diversity is a ubiquitous concept, though often we don’t engage with those of differences in a meaningful way. Sometimes diversity is window dressing that allows us  to feel good, but does not contribute to our own welfare and the betterment of our communities.

Our national motto “E Pluribus Unum”  – out of many, one – acknowledges the range of nationalities and cultures that contribute to our national ethos.  It was suggested by Swiss American Pierre Eugene du Simitiere in 1776.  But today, diversity is questioned by many, and is even perceived as a threat.  The message from the current administration is that diversity is actually something that can harm Americans.

Tied to the notion of diversity is the concept of identity.   Identity politics and identity conflict are frequently cited today as the basis for violence and serious disagreement both in the U.S. and globally.  How we view ourselves presents a way in which others engage with us.  Many individual identities present the diversity we see in our society.

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Today American society is more diverse than ever before.   This diversity will continue. It is predicted that by 2055, the U.S. will not have a single racial or ethnic  majority.  Today 14% of U.S. society is foreign born, compared with 5% in 1965 (and compared with 33% today in Montgomery County, MD).

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Washington Post, 11/25/16

The recent 2016 president election and the current policies of the Trump administration illustrate a rising fear with some Americans – particularly white Americans – about diversity.    Many white Americans see diversity as a “zero sum competition” today. Counteracting this fear requires meaningful interaction between groups on multiple levels.

Millennials view diversity in a more practical way than previous generations.   They view diversity as the blending of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, referred to as cognitive diversity.   In this way, they view diversity as a means to making change in society and advancing common goals.

Diversity and peacebuilding are inextricably linked.  As we become more diverse as a country and a planet, finding ways of celebrating and acknowledging diversity will be important. But that isn’t enough.   We must actively and purposefully engage with those who are different.

Living with diversity requires that we recognize that:

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Providing opportunities to engage with those who are different is important.   At the end of  my presentation, I chatted with a nursing student who told me that she intentionally engages in small talk with members of her community as a way of creating a sense of meaning and belonging.   A simple “hello” and “how is your day” is the first step.   I would encourage her approach in all social settings.   In this way, peace can be advanced in a societies where differences are present, resulting in meaningful relationships.