by Natalie Edwards
Published on: Jan 22, 2003
Type: Opinions

Diversity is a word that has many meanings. According to the dictionary, it means ‘difference’; it means to be ‘dissimilar’. But diversity isn’t just about the color of your skin or the sound of your accent or your background or your value system, ultimately, diversity is about ideas; it is about the originality and free-thinking context of your ideas.

Schools try to teach those two qualities. Schools promote discussion and cooperation. The most important gift schools give to students, believe it or not, is education, because education is the basis for articulating your own ideas.

Today, however, our society is largely influenced by the mainstream, by industries that teach people through their eyes and through their ears that any one thing is acceptable, be it a pair of shoes, or the way you eat, or the way you speak; these industries teach people through seeing and through listening, but they simply do not contain the breadth and depth to rouse the mind. The mainstream can only take us so far and often, it takes us backward.

It is hard to imagine a world where any one person is not subject to the dictates of another man’s words. But there is a very distinct line between the freedom of expressing your own thoughts and the forced acquisition of one’s thoughts on someone else. The very simple difference is the concept of open-mindedness, the ability to approach topics, even topics that entail by their mere existence, conflict and tension, as the sharing of knowledge rather than the arguing of opinions.

The ancient philosopher, Socrates, epitomizes, in his efforts, the relevance of free exchange: he walked around the town center and coined the term ‘Socratic Seminar’ by engaging fellow intellectuals in debate. He asked them to question accepted logic and practices and to see a world beyond them unhindered by misconceptions.

Though means to measure are impossible, it is safe to assume that more intellectualism exists today that has ever existed, but it exists in a sort of vacuum, available only to scholars and to students who have spent twenty years in a desk. For the rest of society, this ‘intellectualism’ has, in all likeliness, been blitzed by fast and empty entertainment appeal. This is not to say, however, that dramatic cinema or derogatory music has no place in society, simply that it remains to the watcher and to the listener to recognize that these industries have become a warped form of entertainment that, more than most people realize, has replaced a realistic conception of life; it has provided society with innumerable stereotypes from which innumerable people base their thoughts and actions.

As a case in point, every year, more teenage boys and girls have documented eating disorders. Paradoxically, but not illogically, more and more people are overweight and obese. They are more violent; there is more documented depression.

The average child spends five hours in front of the television, watching shows in which violence is widespread, in which television crews investigate Hollywood mansions and interview supermodels, in which life is depicted as being much simpler and much easier than it actually is.
People forget how to cope with life; they lose the ability to think freely and speak confidently; they forget that it is ok to be different and to value their own individuality; they forget that life isn’t just about one big conflict and an unexpected solution; they forget that life is everything in between.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, there is a viable answer to this on going and increasing dilemma: it is, though not so simple, to invest more time and energy in education. Ultimately, it is to engage our youth and introduce them to means of self-expression. The options are limitless and they can take us much, much farther than the degradation of listening to and staring at what Newton N. Minow said “can be a wasteland of the soul”.

As for the actual industries, Newton N. Minow also stated, quite thoughtfully, against a backdrop of one of our own presidents, “Ask not what broadcasting can do for you. Ask what you can do for broadcasting.” The ‘mainstream’, tentatively referred to as the entertainment industry, and all of its affiliations, is not a separate entity. The people who listen and watch, and the people who don’t, also have the ability to assert themselves; they have the unrealized ability to act upon the way they truly feel about the world; they have the ability to tap into their ideas, and bring themselves back to life with a little spark of creativity.

This creativity has to means to enhance life and to enhance the decisions people make. Diversity means ‘difference’; it means to be ‘dissimilar’. Whenever you read or hear the word, recognize, that at its base, it is about the free exchange of original ideas; imagine how many discoveries could be made, how many problems could be thwarted, and imagine the possibilities.

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