Welcome, everyone

Accepting diversity as a chance to grow

I grew up in a small town on Lake Michigan. Much of the population was white. Most of the people who live there are of Polish descent. It wasn’t until I moved to Grand Rapids, just before beginning seventh grade, that I really began to gain exposure to ethnic diversity.

I began training at professional ballet schools. During the six years that I trained at these schools, I was taught by several men and women from Russia and other former Soviet Republics, a Mexican couple, an Australian man, an English man, a Japanese woman and Americans from all over the country. I danced with students from Canada, Puerto Rico, China and more.

I had classmates in high school from Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and India. My family also hosted a student from France for two weeks through my high school during my sophomore year. In my junior year, I went to France and stayed with her and her family, who immigrated to France from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

College exposed me to even more diversity. From people all over the United States to professors from South Africa and the Philippines, classmates from Rwanda, South Korea and Brazil. I can now say that I have regularly interacted with people from almost every continent.

My exposure to diversity has not been limited to geographic location. I am friends with people who hold conflicting political beliefs from my own. Even my siblings and I disagree on certain points.

I have friends and family members who are Jewish, Buddhist, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Methodist, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Wiccan, agnostic and atheist. I have been friends with lesbians and bisexual women, taught by and been friends with gay and bisexual men, and have been classmates with an asexual male. The little mentee that I took into my dance family line is now a transgender female.

I value the diversity I have been exposed to. Through this diversity, I have learned and grown into the person I am today. You see, every person brought into your life has something to offer that no one else does. Every one of us has different values, morals, beliefs and life experiences that shape us. When you can communicate with and understand everyone, the world becomes a more loving and tolerant place.

Communicating with and understanding others doesn’t mean you must agree with them. That is the very opposite of diversity.

That is so wonderful about diversity is that everyone is unique and special. I’ve learned different cultural values, dances from different countries, genres of music, languages, history, philosophy, religion and so much more. I might not follow the same religion or regularly listen to the same music or speak the same language but I can understand others, and through this understanding and communication, I continuously grow as a person.

No matter your skin color, language or nation of birth, we are all human. When we can set aside our differences to try and learn about each other, a bond is formed that broadens our understanding of each other. Without those bonds, we become intolerant and close-minded. We develop superiority complexes that result in cruelty towards our fellow human beings just because they don’t believe the same things we do. Without diversity, we may as well all be robots.

As long as what you do does not harm anyone else, what’s wrong with believing something different than someone else?

My lack of religion does not harm anyone around me. My instructors coming from a different continent and having a different skin tone, accent and speaking a different language does not harm anyone else. My favorite color is pink.  My favorite book series is Harry Potter. My favorite foods are sushi and chocolate. And none of that hurts anyone.

My belief that everyone should have an equal chance in this world, to be loved and accepted for who they are on the inside, does not harm anyone.

The concept of judging thousands of people based on the deplorable actions of a select few is itself deplorable. We should not be defined by other’s choices, and our own choices should not define who we are.

There is always more to any story than we know. Those reasons may not excuse the action, but when we take the time to try to understand people rather than jumping to conclusions based on how they look or where they’re from, the world becomes a better place.

I believe that no one is inherently evil. I believe that we all have at least one redeeming quality. We cannot allow fear, miscommunication, ignorance and intolerance to tyrannize the world. Enough people have been hurt already. History is riddled with nightmarish stories of the cruelties humans have committed unto other humans.

Why can we not set aside the thought that differences in appearance or beliefs are wrong? Why can we not embrace the differences in an attempt to learn something new? To create a community in the world? Rather than cliques that bully each other and overreact until the snowball effect results in the destruction of millions of lives?