The last wedding I attended was a memorable one. The ceremony was held in a Danish Lutheran church, owing to the bride’s Danish heritage, and all the hymns were sung in Danish. The groom, who grew up in New Zealand and has a thick Kiwi accent, chose to celebrate his own Scottish heritage by wearing a kilt, along with his groomsmen. Except for his one female groomsman, who wore a black dress with a tartan shawl. The Master of Ceremonies was a turban-wearing Sikh who loves country music. And they asked me to say grace at the reception.
I knew that the bride and groom did not attend church regularly, so when I had sent them the draft of the prayer I had come up with, I sort of expected them to ask for something less “churchy”. But after reading my draft, they told me that it was perfect and that I shouldn’t change a thing.
When I said the grace, unapologetically calling on the name of Jesus while standing in a room full of people of different cultural and religious backgrounds, I was surprisingly unconcerned at the prospect that anyone might complain that I had gone ‘too far’ with my explicitly Christian prayer. Indeed, I think even the non-believers were touched by it.
That experience helped to focus my mind on an important distinction. True diversity is not found by eliminating all expressions which are exclusive to one particular group. Rather it is achieved when each person feels welcome to make a contribution which is a sincere expression of who they are. A team that sees their diversity as an asset will produce something that is richer than the sum of what each individual could create alone.
Unfortunately, much of the talk about diversity nowadays is concerned with avoiding conflict, such as through awareness of how language can potentially cause offense. Though important, this focus can condition us to think that different backgrounds are inherently sources of conflict, and that we need to accept diversity simply to guard against those threats which can derail our work or our relationships.
But when we truly appreciate diversity, we see it as a way to infuse our collaborations with richer meaning, amongst our friends and family and with our colleagues at work. To paraphrase what the author C. S. Lewis wrote about friendship, this kind of diversity is “like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.”