Managing our differences/managing difference
If nature wanted all human beings to be unidirectional in reasoning, character, race, ethnicity, or even skin colour we all would have been created homogenously and remained unchanging and unchangeable. If nature wanted all Homo sapiens to be monotheistic for the growth of humanity, then nature would have made it impossible for different religions to start or thrive. Difference, the quality or condition of being unlike or dissimilar, therefore, is one of the constants in the human equation. It follows that as human beings we owe it a duty to nature to learn to live with or manage our differences, or manage ‘difference’ in order to live within the bounds of decency.
It is true that sometimes difference is imposed; in other words, people with different backgrounds, beliefs, cultures, and or religion are compelled to live together in the same geographical environment. With time, boundaries are drawn and written or unwritten codes of coexistence are developed for the benefit of all. The component parts of the different groups realise that they need to learn to live together; that to threaten the existence of different identities or entities is a threat to overall peace.
It is also true that sometimes nature directly made some people different through pigmentation, build or facial construction. An African nose, the eyes of Asians and the hair quality of Caucasians are clear example. In a sense we do not have a choice or say about our height or race or skin colour. These are often determined even before birth by biological and social circumstances. We also do not have a say on who gave us birth, where and when. It is as far as we know the decision of two parents, two consenting adults, whether they be persons from two disparate worlds.
Economic, social, cultural and political factors can also cause difference. Thus we can say that some differences are artificial or based on perception while others are real, based on things that are concrete. But it is also safe to say that fundamentally, all human beings, wherever they come from are the same in terms of biological composition and physiological needs. Differences sometimes begin to creep in because of other variables which the persons are exposed to in the course of life. Some societies are more prosperous than others or have more natural resources than others. Some countries have been able to transform their natural resources and environment better than others. As a result, persons from better organised societies tend to believe that they are superior to others. It is not necessarily true when we consider the intrinsic worth of individuals and the quality of faith which they internally subscribe to.
Difference is not, should not be seen as a sign of weakness; it is a reality, and could be a source of strength. It makes us realise that there are different perspectives to life, to living, and to harmonising the different perspectives possible. Time was when some parents physically abused their children who were left-handed. Left-handed girls suffered the greatest punishment. Some parents went to the extent of inflicting cuts on the left hand of left-handed kids; some hung heavy weights to the left hand to prevent the child from using the left hand to eat or write or lift some objects.
In order to manage difference therefore we must learn to have mutual respect for one another. One person or religion or ethnic group must not see itself as being superior to another. In a multiethnic States, tensions often arise when differences are highlighted through acts of injustice, oppression and exploitation. Power therefore, that is the use or misuse of power can increase the sense of difference and result in conflict.
If we realise that all religions are pathways to the Creator (though perceived differently in religions) then religious differences do not need to engender conflict that would lead to termination of millions of lives as we have witnessed in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and north eastern Nigeria. But if there is a perception that one religion is being officially favoured in a multi-religious society, there is bound to be tension. And as has been recorded in history, religious wars are the most difficult to prosecute or bring to an end.
Let us all remember that in a sense we do not choose our religion; we may choose a sect or a group or a particular interpretation of that religion. But when it comes to choosing a religion, it would seem to me that circumstances of birth and upbringing define the particular religion that we adopt or embrace. For example, it is more likely that a child born in Kano to Muslim parents to adopt Islam than Christianity; also it is more likely for a child born in Sapele to Christian parents to adopt Christianity than Islam. It would be interesting to know the actual statistics of persons who changed religions after being converted by evangelism. I can bet that the percentage would be smaller than those whose birth circumstances or geographical locations have determined their religion. The implication is that adjudication on superiority or otherwise should be left to the Final Arbiter!
Societies which manage ‘difference’ very well are more likely to make progress scientifically and culturally. This is because such societies harness their total resources and concentrate on the positive than the negatives. It is a sign of maturity, wisdom and civilisation. Conversely any nation which cannot manage difference is atavistic and cannot realise its full potentials culturally or otherwise. This of course can be extended to individuals who do not tolerate people or persons who are different, who have a different identity that is not necessarily offensive. Pluralism is one of the features of the current world. From the micro-cosmos that we occupy we feed our contributions into the global in order to gain recognition and occupy a space in the scheme of things.
Finally, difference is and could be a source of strength in the modern world. It is designed to meet the needs of the cosmos and continually remind mankind that in the final analysis we have different assignments on earth and how we develop our minds in the process would define how much we travel in the voyage of existence.
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