Discuss Ideas and Beliefs about Diversity

Back at the beginning of the module, we talked about definitions of diversity that are based on opinions and beliefs about what is “normal” – and good – and what is not. As mentioned, this approach to diversity can have and has had devastating consequences for people around the world. For example, European explorers and settlers concluded that Indigenous people were “savages” because they looked different, ate different foods, dressed and lived differently than Europeans and, most significantly, were not Christian. This interpretation of difference became an excuse or justification for extermination and domination of the Indigenous peoples by European colonists.

Every society has its own views about what is “normal” and these views form the foundation of culture. The word “culture”, like the word “diversity”, is often associated with ethnic differences between people, but a culture can take shape among any group of people who share “knowledge, values, customs, attitudes, language and strategies that enable individuals and groups to adapt and survive in their environment”. [1]

For instance, some researchers study the culture of medicine and medical education, in which doctors are trained to value and acquire particular types of knowledge, to use medical language, and to behave in ways that are considered professionally necessary, such as maintaining a degree of emotional distance from patients. Similarly, the feminist movement, while is itself diverse, is grounded in shared experiences, knowledge, values, and language.

Our challenge in understanding and responding to diversity is to figure out our own cultural assumptions as well those of others. The next step is to learn how to interact respectfully with others when we don’t agree with their values, attitudes, or practices. In multicultural societies and in a global economy, these are complex tasks.

Source: [1] Egbo, B. (2009). Teaching for diversity in Canadian schools. Toronto: Pearson Education Canada. p. 3

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