Confidence in our own identity is the key to embracing the differences of others, writes ANDY HAMILTON SJ

In nature diversity is a good thing. Lack of diversity makes for inbreeding and impoverishment of the gene pool.  It makes crops more liable to catastrophic disease with consequences for all those who rely on them for sustenance. It makes for a less beautiful and various world.

Yet nature also attacks diversity.  Colonies of birds peck at any bird of a different feather that enter their territory; only cuckoos can lay eggs in other birds’ nests.

Human beings are equally adept at resisting diversity. Stepmothers in families, strangers in a village, foreigners in a town, people who look different anywhere, all find their way into stories as a cause of disaffection. For some people the ideal society is one in which everybody has blue eyes, fair hair and a peaches and cream complexion. For others it is one in which all hold the same religious beliefs, speak the same language and share the same prejudices.

For these people racial, religious or cultural diversity are seen as the marks of a weak society.

Cultural diversity is something to celebrate. But not all people celebrate it. In human society we are sustained by forming ecologies – sets of intersecting relationships in which we are bound to family, to place, to religion, to race, to schooling, to economic status, to work, to recreation and so on.

When these relationships link people who are different from one another they provide a safe place in which to grow and to live generously.

But when the ecologies bring together very similar people, they may become afraid of others and act like birds that mark out their territories, regarding different birds as hostile. Many films and novels explore such anxieties in our society that lead to xenophobia and prejudice.

The answer to fear of diversity is rooted in confidence in our own identity.  This gives us the courage and confidence to enter other cultures and to explore them knowing that we shall be enriched by the people whom we meet.

For Jesuit Social Services cultural diversity is the air we breathe. Our staff and the people we work with come from many different nations and cultures, and we constantly need to attend and celebrate our difference.

Jesuit Social Services had its beginnings in Christian faith and culture. Diversity is in the Christian DNA. The Gospel initially spread in the Jewish world, but soon extended to many different cultures, adapting itself to each. Christian prayer bears the marks of many different historical cultures, and many Christian heroes are people who have left their own societies and risked their lives to speak of Jesus in other cultures.

The Christian feast day of diversity is Pentecost Sunday, when the Holy Spirit came down on the disciples and they began to preach to people from many different nations and languages.  The miracle of Pentecost was not that the disciples spoke many different languages, but that people heard and understood each in their own language.  That is cultural diversity – people gathering together in their difference to celebrate their unity.