There is something dark and nasty that we do with the English language.
We depersonalise it. We turn words into ‘terms’ and conversations into ‘engagement’ and stories into ‘narratives.’ We make the meaning and use of the word narrow, and often negative.
The latest depersonalised words doing the rounds are ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’. Or even worse D and I.
Once we have the label and even the acronym, we have already distanced ourselves from the meaning of the words.
Often we are doing this for expediency. We are in a hurry, and shortening, generalising, and depersonalising the word helps us to rush around in our busy worlds.
I just spent a weekend at a wonderful wānanga (workshop) on Te Reo Māori. For those reading internationally – that is the language of Māori in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
We had an awesome session where we pulled apart words from the language to find their origins, their deeper meanings. It shone so much light on the richness of the language.
The thing is, we can do that in English too, but so often we don’t.
English has lost a lot of its reverence: through use in the news media, or mangled in the mouths and on the keyboards of business leaders and politicians. Sadly, words have become cheap.
When it comes to the word ‘diversity’, if you dig a little deeper, it comes from a very beautiful word and a beautiful concept. Great words are about great concepts and layers of meanings.
How the words are used matters a lot. It is all about the context, and when used in a ‘one size fits all’ context, meaning is often lost. The definitions of words evolve with time. Diversity was once used in a positive sense in the development of democracy to ensure that there was not one dominant group with unbridled power over others.
At an even earlier time, the word was used in a negative sense – to divert, to keep people separate.
In the 21st century, we are developing a new definition of diversity, because the way we live today in a globalised world offers an opportunity for us to not be so separate.
The most obvious areas of ‘diversity’ are around ethnicity, gender, and ability, as these are the most physical manifestations of difference. But diversity is about more than this, it is about diversity of thought, behaviours, preferences, identities, that may or may not align with how the world sees us in terms of ethnicity, gender or ability.
So let’s fall in love with what being ‘diverse’ means, and let’s take the ‘ity’ off the end of the word, because that makes it separate. We can be DIVERSE, more than we can be DIVERSITY. We can act in a way that is DIVERSE.
I’d like to offer up a 21st century meaning for what it can mean to be diverse in Thought, Word and Deed.
Poetry and music have verses. Verses are variations on a theme. So too, in humanity, our differences are variations on a theme of our common experience. We all live and breathe, and die, so we all share something as living beings. We share love. We can love broadly and we can love all, without condition. We can be infinitely diverse in our expressions of love, it need not have conditions.
So to be diverse to me is to love the twists and turns of life, of humanity.
Rather than having diverse intimate separation, it actually can very much be about embracing our commonality through love and connection in essence, and at the same time allowing difference, uniqueness and identity.
It takes something to do this. It takes something to be with difference and sameness at the same time.