I want to reflect on the way we approach diversity in our community. We have changed as a country so that we are more accepting of difference in culture, religious practice, race, lifestyle, but there are still tensions. There is still racism. We do not interact with all the respect and caring that we could.
Please forgive the rather indirect approach as I begin by talking about some purple cloth I have.
First is a dress made of purple cotton. It is light and comfortable to wear. The cotton keeps its shape, and it always looks fresh. It also stands out. You do not blend in when you wear purple. When I want to be a little less dramatic, I wear a purple skirt with a white top. Both are woven of many threads, but every one of them is dyed purple.
I also have a purple quilt made with a morningstar pattern. The background is white, but the pieces that make up the star are a variety of purples. A few are solid shades, but most are calico with purple flowers and swirls. Someone carefully cut the fabric into triangles and diamonds, chose which to lay side by side, then sewed them together to make a bright star.
The third purple fabric is a silk sari. It has a wide gold border, but the main fabric is a deep purple which shines and shimmers as the fabric moves. The interesting thing about this sari is that there is not a purple thread in it. It is woven with red and blue threads creating the impression of purple. The life and movement in the fabric comes because it is silk, but also because the threads are constantly interacting.
It is pretty obvious that the purple dress I mentioned is the opposite of diversity. The natural cotton was dyed all one colour. The skirt is a little better because it needs a top that is a different, but those two sit side by side without affecting the other. There was a time when we expected our society to be homogeneous, one culture. It never actually was that flat, but some of us thought it was, and some thought it should be.
As a country, we moved to multi-culturalism, the acceptance that there are differences within our society. This is a kind of cold acceptance, an acknowledgement that difference exists in other people.
What happens in the quilt is a recognition that we need difference to create a complex pattern in our community. Placing different fabrics side by side highlights different aspects of each: a flowered calico looks different when it is placed beside white or purple. We see ourselves a little differently when we place ourselves in a different cultural context. Here is a recognition that diversity adds texture and beauty to our lives.
For me, the quilt represents a warmer kind of multi-culturalism, one that appreciates and celebrates diversity. It is limited though. Quilt pieces need to remain distinct from each other: the pattern disappears if the colours bleed together. The pieces are cut and then sewn together to make the pattern. We have over the years made some adjustments so that we can live in the same community with our differences, but we keep our distinct identities. We do not move very far from what we are comfortable with.
The sari shows us what happens when we let other people change us. The individual threads start out red and blue, but they live as purple. They are changed in the interaction, and this fabric is the one that shines and shimmers. In a community, we can live together in a way that allows our differences to interact, to change us. Mutual transformation is an approach that runs deeper than multi-culturalism because the differences between cultures, lifestyles, spiritual practices are engaged.
Tolerance is better than intolerance. Respect is deeper than acceptance. But the differences between people can also change us and help us grow. To build a healthy, whole society and world, we need to let who others are rub off on us. We need to be open to learn from people who are very different from ourselves.