by Jeff Montgomery
What do you think of when you hear the words 'diversity' and 'tolerance'? Do you think that you'd like to run away as fast as you can? Are they the latest in a long line of politically correct buzzwords that permeate our language these days?
While these two words are used extensively in the political discussions of the day, the corporate world has also been affected. Many of the companies we work for have adopted diversity statements, or have incorporated similar language into employee handbooks. Most companies require us to sign the statement, thereby indicating our agreement.
A cynic would argue that companies are doing this to avoid lawsuits or uncomfortable situations at work. While that's probably true, those of us who are a little more optimistic in our outlook would say that it helps eliminate discrimination. We'd all agree on the need to eliminate discrimination.
Such statements are all well and good. The problem is that using these words in the politically correct way implies total acceptance without judgment of whatever lifestyle anyone else is living. However, if we look deeper, I think it's easy to see that the spirit of being tolerant is a deeply Christian concept.
First, a couple of things to consider. Most of us work in an environment that is fairly diverse, culture-wise. In my workplace, I share space (and workload) not only with my coworkers of European descent like myself, but also with people who are of African, Asian, Afghan, Russian, and Pakistani descent (there may be more, but these are the ones I know about).
In the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks of 9/11, the reports indicate that there were some 60 countries that lost people in the attacks, mostly at the World Trade Centers. There were Britons, Israelis, and Japanese. Many were from various African nations. There were reports of people from Muslim countries, and many other countries.
Some years ago I worked in the Los Angeles office of the company I was then employed by, and we once counted over 26 nationalities represented by our employees. Many European countries are a true hodgepodge of cultures.
As people of faith, particularly the Catholic faith, we should be very attuned to the wide range of nationalities represented in our culture and our workplaces. The Catholic Church is a worldwide church with believers in just about every country on the globe.
Beyond the cultural diversity, most of us deal with coworkers that are diverse in other ways - some are religious, some are atheist or agnostic; some are married, others are single or co-habitating; some choose lifestyles different than our own. The point is that diversity manifests itself in many ways.
As Catholic Christians, we should know that God has created each of us, and the world for all of us to live in. Despite differing religious or cultural practices, we Catholics believe in one God, who created the heaven and earth and all that lives in it. By the same token, he gave us humans the free will either to choose Him or not. Obviously, many people don't (for many reasons) but that still doesn't negate the fact that He created all of us. As such, we owe each other the respect and dignity due a creation of God.
This is where tolerance becomes important. Over the last decade or so this word has come to mean not only respecting other people and their differences, but that we must accept and approve of their particular beliefs or behaviors. But I would submit that, as Catholics, we can and should be respectful, but that we don't necessarily need to approve of everything a person does.
This means that if someone is a Muslim, or is Jewish, or agnostic, or even an atheist we should allow them the same human dignity we demand for ourselves. There may be theological differences, but they should be respected rather than ridiculed. We need look no further than our own Pope for an excellent example of this sort of tolerance. He is the most widely traveled Pope in history, and has tirelessly promoted ecumenism. Recently, one of his trips took him to Armenia and Kazakhstan to visit not only Catholics, but also the largely Muslim people living there.
Our faith teaches us that there is one truth, and that there is concrete right and wrong. It also teaches us that we are all sinners in need of God's saving grace. I know that I need to remind myself daily that I need God's grace and strength to overcome whatever shortcomings exist within me. We are all in the same boat.
As we, and the rest of the world, move forward into a changed and uncertain world, let us do our part to bring peace and understanding into our own worlds and lives. Let us celebrate the diversity of thought and culture that makes the world interesting, and be understanding and compassionate where we have differences. And, most importantly, let us pray for each other.
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