Cezanne. The Basket of Apples. 1893. JR P. Flickr.
“The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone. “
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Why Does Difference get Misunderstood?
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
Over the centuries, people have dismissed much of what may be new and different; many great inventions and creations were born out of rejection. Renoir, Van Gogh, Pasteur, Disney, The Beatles and many others, were all innovators who experienced rejection.
Pasteur’s germ theory of disease was seen as controversial in the nineteenth century, yet he was to go on to revolutionise medical science by proving the link between these micro-organisms and disease.
Louis Pasteur. Albert Edelfelt. Wikimedia Commons.
In the art world, Cezanne’s masterful work was misunderstood, misinterpreted and rejected by many of his contemporaries during most of his lifetime. Only at the end of his career did he start to be appreciated.
He was considered too avant-garde and did not fit into any of the nineteenth century painting genres. His work was too different and it was rejected and ridiculed for many years.
Cézanne. Chateau de Médan. Wikimedia Commons.
People do often reject difference. Anything that is strange, unfamiliar or atypical might be seen as bad. It is as if there is a fear, a threat of being somehow depleted, robbed, taken over. Sameness is valued, difference frowned upon.
“But as with all geniuses, being ahead of her time meant leading a rather lonely and misunderstood existence”
The ‘other’ or ‘they’, ‘them’, the immigrant, the refugee, the stranger, or whatever, automatically become the enemy because they are seen as ‘not us.’
Image:Flickr:Secret London 123. “Daily Star On Immigration.”
This is a kind of animal instinct; if a canary escapes from its domestic setting, it is sometimes killed by garden birds, because of its differences.
“Small minds have always lashed out at what they don’t understand.”
In human terms, we often project the disliked aspects of ourselves onto ‘the stranger.’ This is a kind of scapegoating, enabling us to temporarily rid ourselves of aspects that we are ashamed or afraid of.
“If you are different from the rest of the flock, they bite you.”
‘Most human cultures have been known to deploy myths of sacrifice to scapegoat strangers. Holding certain aliens responsible for the ills of society, the scapegoaters proceed to isolate or eliminate them. This sacrificial strategy furnishes communities with a binding identity, that is, with the basic sense of who is included (us) and who is excluded (them). So the price to be paid for the construction of the happy tribe is often the ostracizing of some outsider: the immolation of ‘the other’ on the altar of the alien.’The Scapegoat. William Holman Hunt. Wikimedia Commons.
Difference can be creative; it is essential to productive teamwork. We are all different, no matter how ‘alike’ we feel to other people. It is important to value difference and diversity and to find commonalities within it.
Many might feel uncomfortable with the aspects of themselves that feel ‘different’ from others. Sometimes, this can precipitate low self-esteem.
This is a sad reflection of society’s tendency to create ‘ideal’ versions of how we ‘should’ look, and be, often perpetuated by the press, television and social media.
We lie if we say we do not see color and culture and difference. We fool ourselves and cheat ourselves when we say that all of us are the same. We should not want to be the same as others and we should not want others to be the same as us. Rather, we ought to glory and shine in all of our differences, flaunting them fabulously for all to see!
“To think is to differ.”
If we were all the same, life would be colourless. Light, shade and colour is important, to create a harmonious whole.
Rembrandt. The Three Singers. Wikimedia Commons.
“You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note.”
Welcoming others, seeing the humanity within people who might appear different from ourselves, creates fellowship and solidarity between people.
Thinking Differently About Diversity.
“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”
There are many ways in which we may be different from others. Some of these are: Gender, sexual orientation, race, colour, age, class, culture, ability/disability, ethnicity, personality, life experience, individual make-up, beliefs, language, religion, and, of course, ways of thinking.
Image: Capital Pride Parade, Washington.
Welcoming and valuing diversity can be a powerful way of avoiding stereotyping, racism, sexism and narrowness.
There is no one way of thinking. Real education means that people understand that there are no absolutes; there are differing views that may, or may not, complement each other.
This can result in discussion, argument, agreement, awareness, creativity. Whatever happens, the outcome of an inclusive approach will likely be increased sensitivity to others’ needs. Without this, insensitivity and ignorance will triumph.
Clothing firm H&M only appointed a global leader for diversity and inclusiveness, after they had made a racist advertisement that caused an outcry.
Before that, no-one objected to what was patently offensive to black people, because apparently nobody in the firm was thinking in an inclusive, multi-cultural way. It defies belief, actually.
“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation.”
Respecting diversity and learning to appreciate other cultures needs to become a part of all our core values, along with kindness, consideration and love. Only then will our society become truly civilised.
all this singing,
is one song.
The differences are just
illusion and vanity.
The sun’s light looks a little different
on this wall than it does on that wall,
and a lot different on this other one,
but it’s still the same light.
We have borrowed these clothes,
these time and place personalities,
from a light, and when we praise,
we’re pouring them back in.
“Small minds see division whereas great minds see Unity.”