SEVA, A PATH TO CELEBRATE DIVERSITY
Over the past century up to today several commemorative dates have been established. And whenever a celebratory date is created, it serves as a reminder to focus on an issue that still presents aspects in need of attention and solutions in the reality that pervades us all.
In light of this perspective, UNESCO instituted in 2001 the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, stipulating that cultural diversity is a common heritage of humanity. Since then, we have celebrated the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.
But, after all, what is the importance of such a celebration? How is this issue connected to us and the world around us?
The importance of diversity
Throughout human history, over millennia, diversity has not been met with kind eyes. Since the culture of domination narrated in the history books was established all over the globe, diversity has been annihilated. This implies in maintaining power and control over the logic that all that does not fit into the dominion should not exist. And so, throughout centuries, many cultures, beings, ways of existing and lives were continuously exterminated and shaped to fit standards. And everything and everyone that did not surrender paid with their existence.
However, if we take nature as a viewpoint, without diversity there is no life and no experiences that make us stronger. Diversity and collaboration are what allows life to exist in all its potential, be it biological or culturally.
With the invasions of the last 6 millennia, we have seen an increasingly hegemonic way of living spread throughout the world, with monotheism and monoculture as its maxims. A logic where only one God and one religion could save all beings and farming only one crop to a great extent could end global famine.
But what we see in reality is that this pasteurization is an illusion, because where there is life, there is diversity. That is why the world today, which is going through climate and epidemiological crises and witnessing human existence being increasingly threatened, has diversity as one of its main agendas, as well as the challenge of addressing this issue in unison.
Guru Nanak's example
If we take a look at history we can see that no movement is linear and unanimous in the way official history narrates. There have been characters, prisms and diverse relations undertaken in favor of the right for diversity and alterity to exist.
Christ may be one of the most renowned figures to have questioned the prevailing order and defended the various minorities and singularities as valid and worthy. And he mostly did so by embracing and serving. But we also have another character who, during his life and vast pilgrimage, lovingly and wholesomely challenged the unique ways of viewing and conceiving life and humanity.
Guru Narak Dev Ji, the first Guru Sikh, at the turn of the 15th to the 16th century, had the audacity to confront religions and social organizations in a feudal India with statements such as:
"I am neither a man nor a woman, nor am I without sex. I am the peaceful, whose form is self-sufficient, powerful radiance."
"I am not a child, nor a young man, nor an elder; nor am I of any caste."
"Accept all humans as your equals, and let them be your only cult."
As well as his most famous quote: "There are no Hindus, and no Muslims."
Guru Narak traveled extensively to spread his belief that we can find divinity within each one of us through a virtuous life and selfless service (seva). He was a poet, a mystic, a philosopher and a singer who condemned ritualism, as well as discrimination against women and people of lower socioeconomic status.
Guru Narak was a supporter of what we now call alterity, that is, the awareness that it is only possible to perceive oneself in relation to the perception of the other. That without hierarchy, for example, it is possible to perceive that a culture is foreign to the individual to the same extent that being is foreign to that culture. In other words, the destruction of the other ultimately means the destruction of oneself.
Which is why dialogue and relations were some of Guru Naraks’s main purposes, seeking to build relationships with all and every existing difference. This idealization of a space free of hierarchy on differences has gained a concrete institutional form in community meals (langar) established by Sikhs, where regardless of caste, beliefs, religion, region, language, everyone sits down together to share a meal in a congregation united in its diversity (sangat). A meal which is freely available to all.
Back to the beginning
To answer the questions presented in this text, a self-analysis about the presence of diversity within the contexts we experience in our lives is required. How diverse is our family, neighborhood, friendship circle, work environment, what we consume culturally? And when diversity is present, how representative and equitable is it?
Diversity has different meanings to different people. Experiencing diversity in our daily lives means being exposed to people, cultures, traditions and practices that are different from our own. Cultural diversity as a quality of different cultures, instead of monoculture or standardization of cultures, is fundamental to producing new knowledge and moving forward as a society in general. These are complex times we live in, where complex solutions are necessary and a single approach for everyone no longer works. Each way of living is different and requires its own management strategy to effectively integrate people. "Diversity is a journey and, like any journey, requires careful navigation."¹
Start with the basics (which does not mean simple):
Recognize and name the discomfort another person may cause in you and understand that it is about you.
Try to create and live in more diverse environments, building relationships with differences.
Normalize inclusion in your life and your circles.
Serve indistinctly to the invitations that show up at your door. Service is a bridge that connects us from the heart to the unknown.
Several other steps are possible. These are just a first inspiration so we can live in a more inclusive, collaborative and equitable society.