The Gift of Being Different


3 Mar 2016
Cultural diversity is a fact of our daily lives. In the streets we see people with turbans, head scarves, clerical collars, the latest sneakers, Armani suits, smell people with Chanel perfume, hear Greek music from the next car, and walk past people playing bocce and others doing Tai Chi in the parks. And mostly we appreciate all this diversity as a blessing.
But of course much of this diversity is skin deep. The deeper gift of cultural diversity lies in the significant differences between human beings who share a common humanity. The culture and religion in which we are born and grow help shape the way we respond to our world. When we mix with people from different cultures and come to know them more deeply we grow in our own humanity. We deepen our own sense of identity by our exchanges with people who are different from us.
Unfortunately, difference is also often a source of conflict. The wrong footy jumper, the conversation in a language other than English, the wrong coloured skin and the wrong shaped eyes can lead to abusive words.
If we make nationality or religion or culture the core of our national identity we are more likely to be hostile to people who differ from us.  Some people look back nostalgically to a time when there were few Asians, Africans or Muslims in Australia, when most Australians were of Christian faith and European extraction. Differences then were not a problem, they say, because there were no differences. They imagine that a strong, united nation must have a single religious and cultural identity.
People who make judgments like that have forgotten what the past was really like. But for followers of Jesus our identity is shaped by longing and love. We long for God and for a world that makes God’s peace, generosity and variety visible. A strong nation is not one in which only one language is spoken, one religion is practiced and only the same customs tolerated.
God’s infinite variety is reflected in the differences between people. God’s deep unity is reflected in the deep and varied relationships that people make. The deeper the variety of relationships the better the society is, held together by love and a longing for unity of hearts.
As a Christian organisation, Jesuit Social Services welcomes people from all backgrounds and cultures. We learn from vulnerable young people with whom we work about the many challenges they have faced in entering a new culture and language. We have also learned that their own culture and languages are a treasure for both them and us to appreciate.
Fr Andy Hamilton SJ is editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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