Many renowned universities such as Harvard are known for admitting students who come from different countries and from different walks of life. The rationale behind this is that their students need to learn how to interact with people with a variety of backgrounds in order to become effective global citizens. Indeed, globalization has made societies today much more diverse since one end of the world is just a plane ride away from the other. However, while the admissions office in Harvard may celebrate diversity, it has to be acknowledged that diversity brings about quite a few challenges as well. Therefore, while the trend towards diversity is largely a positive one, its negative implications cannot be ignored too.
Diversity is about bringing people who have their own unique ideas and mindsets together. When these people share and exchange their opinions, they may disagree with one another and might even seek to reach a consensus. This is, in essence, democracy because what is the point of “rule by the people for the people” if everyone agrees on every single issue? The trend towards diversity in the political arena is a positive one because one has opposition parties who can act as checks and balances against the ruling party as well as representatives of different groups in society. At the end of every British parliamentary elections, the leader of the second largest party is sworn in as Her Majesty’s most loyal opposition. The apparent paradox of “loyal opposition” is actually a vital ingredient of a healthy democracy – dissent that is expressed in a reasonable and logical fashion that lends itself to compromise and is ultimately for the public good. Such diversity in viewpoints can help governments make sound decisions as it aids proper evaluation of policies them a variety of perspectives. Likewise, including women as well as minority groups as Singapore has done in its Group Representation Constituency system, helps to ensure that the needs of these often marginalized groups are met. Additionally, having a strong opposition in politics can seem to motivate ruling parties to do the best for the nation as politicians know that unsatisfactory decisions may haunt them during the next elections. Therefore, diversity in governance is a positive development since it has to be ruled by all people.
Next, another benefit to the exposure of different ways of thinking is the potential for creativity to flourish. Humans are highly social creatures who learn best when interacting with others and who can collaborate with one another to achieve something new. This is why the hallways of Silicon Valley and Bangalore where enterprising immigrants of different nationalities and backgrounds exchange their ideas are the lands of innovation today. This is especially important in a global economy that is gradually shifting from industrialization to more knowledge-based production. Moreover, having a society which is open to diversity attracts the investments of large multinational companies since it means that they are able to send in their professional expats much more easily. This explains why today’s most prosperous cities such as London, Singapore and New York are so welcoming to immigrants. Hence, since the trend towards diversity is what will drive future economic development in the world, it is a positive development.
On a more microscopic note, diversity in industries meaning competition as opposed to a single monopoly, is healthy. Competition drives producers to deliver better products and services and keep costs down. The liberalization of telecommunications in Singapore, for example, served to include Starhub and M1 together with Singtel. This move was to the ultimate benefit of consumers who received more choice and better quality. Therefore, diversity in industries improves efficiency in economies and is a positive development.
At first glance, one might think that the trend towards diversity in societies is beneficial because the cultural interactions between people can promote a greater understanding and respect between people of different races and religion. Indeed, the shift from ethnocentrism and stereotypes to a more global and multicultural society is a step in the right direction. However, it will be too optimistic to claim that everyone has understood one another and everyone is living harmoniously together. The influx of foreign cultures and values have alarmed cultural preservationists, leading to tensions and conflicts within societies. Radical Hindus, in India for example, have felt that western public displays of affection are unacceptable to traditional Indian culture so they annually harass or even attempt to forcefully marry young couples on Valentine’s Day. The French Law that bans headscarves and face veils in schools has also alienated many of France’s five million Muslims. A few years back, rioting broke out in a Paris suburb when a police officer checked the identity papers of a fully veiled women. Indeed, social diversity brings about its own set of challenges and these problems are not easily solved. Therefore, while diversity may increase cultural understanding, the social strife it might cause does not make the trend towards diversity a necessarily positive one.
In essence, the movement towards diversity may be beneficial politically and economically but the social aspect needs to be examined more closely. Governments will have to embrace diversity but at the same time remain cautious at its negative aspects if they were to truly enjoy the fruits that diversity bear.