Friday, February 17, 2017

Diversity and Dog Shows?

Yesterday afternoon on a road trip, I turned on the radio and fortuitously tuned into an NPR program about a prestigious dog show in Westminster, UK. I only caught the tail-end of the show, no pun intended.

A British reporter had been describing diverse techniques of dog-breeding, and how no two dogs are the same. At the dog show, she said, every little distinction is celebrated. One Irish setter might have a couple spots on this side, and one might have a different pattern of spots on the other side. At the end, she made a correlation to humans and commented on the lack of tolerance for diversity in today’s day and age. “If only broader society would embrace diversity as we do in dog shows…” she lamented.

I sat in my car stunned by her repugnant analogy.

Is that all that “diversity” amounts to?

Are we all like dogs at a dog show, being judged for our bodily and aesthetic appearance? Like an Irish Setter is assessed for his stack, gait, breed standard and type?

Is a human being valued based on his breed or grooming?

Is human diversity nothing more than variety in melanin in skin or hair, dimensions, fingernails, clothing choices, etc., like dogs differ in paws, spots or fur?

I understood the message she was attempting to convey, but the very notion of likening social diversity for humans to that of a dog show was offensive and reprehensible.

What about mutts or mongrels? Why doesn’t their genetic diversity matter in the world of dog breeding?

(Lots could be said about the very notion of dog shows, but that’s a topic for a different time…)

For the remainder of my drive, I contemplated that closing statement on NPR, how it reflected a skewed definition of diversity that afflicts much of our society today.

I gazed out my window at other drives and passersby, all of dissimilar appearances, features, stations in life, etc.

What does “embracing diversity” look like to you?

Does it mean not to judge someone based on the individual’s racial, religious or socioeconomic background? That sounds more like “tolerating” diversity. To embrace it would seem to be more than just tolerating it.

Does it mean that every bizarre hairdo, every possible natural or manmade human feature under the sun, has to appeal to me the same? But what if it doesn’t?

Does it just mean to celebrate the fact that we are different, have different tastes and make different choices? But what if I disagree with his choices?

Do I need to embrace a fellow’s multiple tattoos and body piercings and appreciate them? Do I need to applaud another individual’s revealing, scanty or suggestive clothing? If I regard such clothing as undignified, am I not “embracing diversity?”

Do I need to embrace a vulgar person’s vulgarity or promiscuous person’s promiscuity?

It’s not necessarily about judging anyone or assigning guilt. If someone is destitute and jobless, does that mean that I have to embrace his economic status and give it equal respect as I accord to one of a higher economic or professional status?

Does embracing diversity mean to appreciate the uneducated person’s lack of education or a tactless person’s lack of tact?

And what if an individual’s lifestyle runs contrary to my own belief system? What if it’s not only against my religion, but is also is at odds with the universal moral code of the Seven Commandments that I believe were enjoined on all Noah’s descendants?

Does “embracing diversity” mean that you ought to sanction his/her lifestyle or orientation even if you find it morally objectionable? If an individual rejects the biological definition of male and female (i.e. XX and XY) and adopts a new-age non-binary definition that you don’t agree with, are you not “embracing diversity?”

And if you refuse to use the pronoun of his or her choice, are you being intolerant?  If I believe that another religion(s) contains theological errors I refuse to validate or admire or even recognize, am I also intolerant of diversity?

The dog show comparison suggests that we ought to view every distinction between people as beautiful and worthy of celebrating. A spot here, a spot there…it’s all good.

In my opinion, this is a grave mistake. This is not social diversity, but a corruption thereof.

One who embraces all forms of diversity doesn’t stand for anything and has no absolute sense of right or wrong. Furthermore, he is being disingenuous, for he certainly has his own preferences which he needs to suppress or keep secret in order to truly “embrace” this distorted definition of diversity.

Here’s the real meaning of social diversity, and it has NOTHING to do with dog shows:

How do you value a human being? Better yet, how do you value yourself? What is your core worth? Does your hair/skin/eye color have anything to do with your core value? How about your education, skillset, profession or economic status? Do those contribute to your inner value as a person? And the virtuous choices that you make, or even your selfless acts of charity… do those define your basic worth as a human being?

The correct answer to all the above is no. Your true value is that you’re a reflection of your Divine Creator, a part of G-d from above, as it were. This gives you infinite and unfathomable value. Your hairstyle, skin color, waist-size, etc. are irrelevant, as are your religion, profession or economic/social class. Even your virtues and good deeds, or lack thereof, don’t add or detract from your core value, that you were handcrafted in the image of your infinite Creator. All the other aspects of you, your gender, your bodily features, your talents, etc., are rather peripheral and non-essential to your true, infinite value.

Now, your fellow also has that same infinite value, as he too is a reflection of the same One above. So his race, socioeconomic status, education, hairstyle, etc, don’t really affect his true value as a human being. Even poor choices he may have made don’t change his Divinely-significant status.

Consequently, I can respect him/her with awe and reverence for his/her true infinite value, irrespective of any tattoos or body piercings, poor clothing choices, skin color, physical oddities, or even of any behavior that I might consider inappropriate. The person is a walking, talking image of our Divine Creator! Any differences that might exist between us two are kind of irrelevant. We are both human beings, created in the image of the same One G-d. That is truly awesome!

The differences don’t need to be “embraced.” What needs to be embraced is the other person’s humanity. At that level, our dissimilarities fade away to obscurity.

Of course I can now appreciate his different physical features. That’s exactly how G-d made him, just like G-d made me to look like me. Even if his socioeconomic status or education is lacking, that’s irrelevant and doesn’t affect my opinion of him as a human being. That’s the situation G-d put him into in life, and it doesn’t mean that his life is any less meaningful than mine. But even aspects of his persona that I consider negative are now overlooked too. We can simply agree to disagree about our ideological differences; I don’t need to embrace those, for it wouldn’t be honest. Plus, it wouldn’t be kind, because I truly feel that some of his vices are to his own detriment. So I could never make peace with them. But I can embrace his humanity and treat him with the very same reverence and respect that I ought to accord to every human being. I can simply choose to not focus on the negative and superficial, and instead see only the boundless positive, our shared core value.

I don’t have to agree with every lifestyle choice he/she makes, or with which pronoun he/she chooses, or with how he might sully his body with tattoos and piercings, or dress in an undignified way or sport outlandish hairstyles.

I don’t need to compliment those things or even acknowledge them. If asked, I can politely state my opinion, or decline to comment altogether. That is my prerogative. I am entitled to teach my children about modest, ethical and moral conduct, adherence to the Torah, which also enjoins us to respect and care for others irrespective of our differences or of the other’s non-compliance to Torah.

If I choose not to teach my young children about “alternative lifestyles” or “gender fluidity,” that does not mean I am “intolerant” of others who might make such choices, nor does it mean that I don’t embrace those individuals’ humanity.

If we don’t have a TV or have any exposure to prevalent attitudes and behaviors that dominate today’s society that we consider objectionable, that doesn’t mean we are intolerant of diversity.
To the contrary, it means that we can be truly tolerant, for even when others have views or behaviors that we eschew and choose not to be exposed to in our home, we can still respect and appreciate those individuals for their true value, ignoring some things that we may view as flaws. I am not perfect either. Others who claim to embrace diversity by condoning every behavior are not truly tolerant. They just don’t stand for anything in the first place, so there’s nothing to tolerate. Everything goes in the name of laissez faire social diversity.

True tolerance means that I don’t have to agree with him to be able to respect and value him as a person.

To summarize:
Physical, racial, sex or socioeconomic differences among humans cannot be compared to a dog’s different pattern of spots, as bodily or economic features are not what gives us value as humans, nor can any other dissimilarities. Even moral shortcomings or defective behaviors cannot be compared to variations at dog show either, because there is a fundamental distinction between humans and animals.

None of those superficial differences define a human being, or even affect his value in any way, like spots on a dog at a dog show might.

Embracing diversity means to appreciate that every single individual in our heterogeneous society is a reflection of his or her Divine Creator, and consequently is deserving of my respect.

We are all members of one human family and can learn to appreciate and value each other, along with or irrespective of our dissimilarities. We don’t need to hide nor flaunt our differences, nor do we need to force another to accept or approve of attitudes or behaviors he/she may disagree with. Life is not a dog show and you are not on display, vying for anyone’s attention or judgment. In G-d’s eyes, we are all first-place winners, and represent the very finest of His Divine handiwork.