The difference between unity and uniformity can sometimes be blurred.
Relatedly, the word ‘discriminate’ is often misunderstood. To discriminate simply means that you recognise a distinction between people or things, and that is all it means. It does not necessarily imply that an individual is being treated unfairly on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation for example, although as we know, this is an issue that often lies at the heart of social unrest, and hate crimes in particular.
The chant we frequently hear: ‘Let’s celebrate diversity’ can carry a powerful message of love and acceptance, for at its heart is the importance of valuing the individual.
To truly value the individual, however, is to do so without demanding that they change, or conform to our values and belief systems. They are to be valued and accepted as they are.
The Asian practice of welcoming visitors by placing a garland around their necks has a wonderful significance. What is being said is: ‘I salute your human dignity.’ In this culture, the individual is being honoured regardless of race, colour or creed. It is human dignity that is being valued.
There are beautiful pictures of this in the Old Testament book of Proverbs where King Solomon is extolling the virtues of wisdom: ‘... get wisdom’, he wrote. ‘Though it cost all you have. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honour you. She will give you a garland to grace your head.’
A garland to grace your head, a symbol that none other than God himself, the source of all wisdom, honours our human dignity.
No matter what we have done or said or thought, regardless of our social standing or bank balance, God it seems places a high value on our human dignity.
He does it because it is in his nature to do so.
Humans? We need the Human Rights Act (1998), a required standard of behaviour enshrined in law to ensure that we treat our fellow humans with ‘fairness, dignity and respect’.
What I see as a challenge to us here is that if God can honour our human dignity, knowing us as he does, surely it is not too much to ask of us that, regardless of how much we might struggle with the opinions of others – their religion, race or sexual orientation – we can still respect the human dignity of those with whom we share this patch of earth.
That doesn’t mean that we all have to be the same, believe the same, or strive for the same goals. That’s uniformity and it is a bleak and featureless landscape.
No, it is unity, based on Voltaire’s stated position: ‘I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.’
Maybe some day, we in this most beautiful corner of the globe, this one-time ‘land of saints and scholars’, will outgrow the dialogue of the deaf, the politics of the megaphone, and move to a place where we can differ, we can debate and disagree, and still see the good in our adversaries: a place where we will always honour human dignity.