Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Beauty of Difference

By Su Niye, New Age Islam
14 June 2016
If you’ve observed bird behaviour, you would have noticed that parrots, for instance, ‘hang around’ only with fellow parrots, pigeons with fellow pigeons, sparrows with fellow sparrows, and so on. “Birds of a feather flock together”, as the well-known saying goes.
The same holds true for other creatures. Bees always buzz around with fellow bees, not with dragon-flies, and you won’t find lady-birds or dung-beetles joining an ant parade. The fact that stories about close bonds between members of two different species of animals—a kitten, for instance, being reared by a dog, or a baby monkey having fun playing with a tigress—so fascinate us is because they are so exceedingly rare. Exceptions like these only prove the rule—that in the animal, reptile, insect and bird realms, members of different species confine intimate relations to themselves. This is how God has made them to be.
Often enough, we humans behave just the same way, although, unlike other creatures, we aren’t genetically programmed to necessarily do so. Many people like to confine close friendships only to those who are ‘like them’—people of the same caste or class, the same religious, cultural or linguistic community, the same ethnic or ideological group,  the same nationality or race. Their interactions with people outside this narrow circle may be minimal, and possibly only for purely economic or survival purposes.
Some people find comfort in confining themselves to people of their own kind. In some cases, this might be a reflection of a belief, shared among significant numbers of members of their social group, of being (supposedly) superior to others. In some other cases, members of marginalised or stigmatised social groups might prefer to bond among themselves because they feel that others may not accept them or may look down on them.
Human clannishness can sometimes go to extreme lengths, manifesting itself in conflict and even bloody wars, directed against people who are projected as the menacing ‘other’ and as sub-human or even worse. Probably most of the innumerable wars that have marred human history have stemmed from this lamentable tendency.
It is perhaps natural that many people tend to have closer relationships with those whom they have more things in common with than with others. But, unlike other creatures, we don’t necessarily have to confine such relationships only to those who are just like us. It isn’t something that we are biologically programmed to do, by force of instinct, unlike in the case of other creatures.
Imagine if the only people we knew and interacted with were people who thought, behaved or looked just like us. How boring it would be! We would never learn anything new at all. It would put a complete stop to human progress, and our lives would be terribly monotonous. It would be as tedious as, saying, having to eat just one dish—say, boiled rice—three times a day every single day, for the rest of your life!
Just as eating just boiled rice all our life would gravely damage our health, depriving us of essential minerals, proteins and vitamins that we need, which food other than rice can provide us, interacting only with people who are just like us would gravely impoverish our lives.
A garden’s beauty is enhanced by the sheer variety of trees and flowers that it hosts. In the same way, our lives, at both the personal and the collective level, can be greatly enriched when people from different backgrounds—class, ideological, ethnic, religious, national and so on—interact with and learn from, with and through one another and share the unique gifts that each of them has by virtue of being different.
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