Does diversity really fit in with communities?
Are individuals really accepted?
Does diversity create community inclusion?
We all hear the word community being thrown around. Are communities really inclusive of individuals, and do they openly demonstrate diversity?
Community can have many different concepts to us all. A straightforward understanding of community might be ‘a common grounding of interest or location, giving each individual a sense of belonging’. We as individuals in society add labels and stereotypes, which can hide diversity and limit acceptance. A genuine community is theoretically about each of us as individuals, integrating these differences with acceptance. Community – if we truly belong as individuals – involves engagement and empowerment by other people. The issue I want to address is that diversity in communities needs to be open to all individuals to enjoy, without the focus on the supposed labels that define our experience.
Over the past few months, while I have been living in west Auckland, there have been several murders that have hit the headlines. The image of a ‘bad community’ was jumped on and sold by the media, and it created fear within people, and the community at large. We as individuals have our hauora (wellbeing) deeply entwined in communities, and it can be manipulated by external and internal forces. As I heard the words of west Auckland being a ‘bad community’ my views were definitely challenged, doubting almost everybody I walked past who appeared ‘dodgy’, or fitted the stereotype of ‘gangster youth.’ My thoughts started to become my actions… My behaviour in my community became detached as I moved past people with my head down, nervous to walk the streets. These thoughts of ‘bad community’ permeated my actions. I had to reconcile with myself that without individuals there is no such thing as community. Our diversity should make our communities more inclusive and insightful of the real ‘stuff,’ not hide behind the perfect ‘no sin’s here’ facade.
Does diversity lie within each of our individual views and experiences? Does it contribute meaning and understanding to our communities? We do not need to hide away from the distinguishing and variety in our communities – as we all come from different walks and talks of life. We need in fact to be brave enough to acknowledge our differences, and to celebrate authentic diversity. Encouraging diversity as a ‘keep learning’ concept within communities, I believe, is vital to our ongoing health as a society. Unfortunately, community seems not to understand people’s distinctive life experiences and expressions, and peoples holistic world views and needs. This to me, testifies to a fear of curiosity and hopefully acceptance (and enjoyment) of diversity in our community. It can create a false sense of who we really are as a community, as it limits expressions of ourselves as individuals, potentially deeply affecting our hauora.
Understanding the diversity present in communities I believe happens through communication. But do all communities really know how to communicate? Do you talk to your neighbour? I surely don’t. I am too busy to talk to them… what would I talk to them about? I don’t know them from a ‘bar of soap’. However, I try to give them a smile from the fence, and enjoy it when that’s returned. That to me is simple communication.
Diversity is constantly changing and challenges us to keep up! Safety, acceptance and belonging massively impact our hauora, and when those things are present it becomes enticing and exciting to explore who we really are. Community is not a one size fits all, finding a community of choice, one that fits our identity is a process. With understanding, and accepting diversity, we could likely increase hauora for people, and the community at large. The communication of who we are as individuals needs to be tackled as the first step of a truly inclusive society. Perhaps a question for ourselves is, as individuals, should we be challenging community views, with a view to creating a safe space for personal expressions of identity?
How do we measure diversity? Can ‘acceptance’ be quantified? How do we know if people truly feel welcomed, free to define themselves, safe to reveal themselves? What is the community’s responsibility to pursue and nurture honest inclusion? Are we as individuals really willing to challenge ourselves with what may be confronting and even painful questions? How do our communities of choice and the society in which they sit really develop true integrity and transparency? I don’t know the answers to these questions, what I do believe is that peoples hauora (and our own), rely on us being brave enough to ask them.
Written by Alice Kendall – AUT student on placement for Health Promotion