By Rev. Nell Green
How strange it has seemed to us to live in Houston. The Houston we left 28 years ago and the Houston we call home today are two entirely different places, though they share the same geographic location. It was about this time 37 years ago that Butch and I made a drive from College Station, TX to The Galleria Mall in Houston to purchase an engagement ring. Everyone in the mall looked, talked, and acted just about the same. Now when I go to The Galleria no one looks, talks, or acts the same. Mono-culturalism has given over to diversity.
This can present challenges to be sure. Challenges, however, do not have to be negative. They can have very positive impacts on our lives. I see diversity as one of those positive impacts if we want it to be.
Diversity challenges us to learn. Opportunities to learn language and culture are all around us if we will take advantage of them. What a joy it is to see a face light up when an International friend hears something in their language. What fun it is to see the surprise when you do something that shows an understanding of their cultural values, such as hospitality. What a refreshing experience to attend a cultural festival and walk into another world.
Diversity challenges our opinions. Discussions on politics or economics can raise blood pressure when others don’t fall in line with our thinking. Allowing our opinions to be challenged forces us to hear the other and entertain the possibility that their way of thinking has merit. This opens doors to understanding and friendship.
Diversity challenges our own cultural mores. As our children were growing up overseas, we were very particular about celebrating Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day. We felt a need to stay connected to our American heritage in that way. Now we have dear friends from different countries who still call us on Thanksgiving Day and one still sends her list to us of the things she is grateful for. But it was hard to hold on to that. Rather the holidays and festivals of the various places where we lived began to play a part in our calendar year and our celebrations. As various cultures here in our own country bring their own celebrations or their unique ways of living life, we are challenged to perhaps let go of some of our Americanism or southernism or north easternism to something more Asian, Latino, African or Middle Eastern. We are also challenged to understand and accept their need to hold on to those aspects of their culture that is integral to who they are as people.
Diversity challenges our individualism. While we value the needs and rights of the individual and go to great lengths here in the U.S. to protect those rights, many of the cultures coming to us today consider the needs of the group to be a higher priority. We just don’t understand when the young woman forgoes her education or a career in order to marry the man chosen for her. In learning to appreciate the values behind such decisions, we learn to be more cognizant of the greater good of the group versus our personal good.
Finally, diversity challenges our faith. Never in American history have different faith systems bumped up against each other so frequently and at times forcefully. This particular challenge has compelled me to examine my own faith, to try and understand what I believe and why I believe it. It has strengthened my faith, not weakened it. This has come as I have had opportunity to learn what others believe and why they believe it. If we appreciate this diversity and grow from it, then we have no need to fear it.
Rev. Nell Green, based in Houston, serves as field personnel for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Interfaith Houston.