"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Monday, November 30, 2015

Diversity, and then what?

When it comes to the sort of ethnic, cultural and racial diversity of which our country and our community are so proud, can there be “too much of a good thing”? The answer is “yes,” according to Martin Collacott, Canada’s former ambassador to Syria and Lebanon, whose opinion was featured as the “Letter of the Day” in the November 30 issue of the Vancouver Sun.

Is Collacott correct? It’s a timely question, not only for Canadians to consider, but also for Coquitlam residents to ponder as we continue to welcome new immigrants into our community on a regular basis and, more notably, also await the arrival of Syrian refugees in the coming months.

Results from "I love Canada because..." mural.
Collacott acknowledges that the increased diversity this country has experienced in recent decades “has made Canadian society more vibrant and interesting in some respects.” However, he continues, “too much diversity can create major problems.” This “has been amply illustrated in the case of more than a few European countries that have begun to discover there are limits to how much diversity they can absorb without harming themselves.”

Canada’s diverse composition may, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently said, be “our strength,” but Collacott answers that diversity is not an unqualified good, in and of itself.

Looking at the question from a common-sense point of view, Collacott makes a good point. Consider the question this way: We may say that “variety is the spice of life,” but there are limits to the sort of variety sane persons will subject themselves to.

Whether it’s in our choice of what we wear (comfortable and warm in winter, not irritating and cold) or what we eat (nutritious and delicious, not poisonous and disgusting), we have boundaries.

Similarly, while we may say that we embrace diversity, most of us would not want to live in a truly diverse community filled with, for example, unrepentant members of Pol Pot’s murderous Cambodian regime from the second half 1970s. Or, of course, with unrepentant members of ISIS. (And, for the most comprehensive look at what ISIS is all about, please click here to see a story from The Atlantic magazine.)

When diversity works in Canada it is not because of the simple fact that the country accepts diversity, and neither is it because of the celebration of diversity; rather, it is because of the fact the new Canadians reciprocate with a commitment to fit into Canada. It’s called integration, and it’s a vital and too-often unacknowledged part of the Canadian success story.

Coquitlam Canada Day activities.
Coquitlam’s official position on diversity is one of unalloyed acceptance, inclusion and celebration. You can read the policy by clicking here. It’s great as far as it goes. But even the city’s own Multicultural Advisory Committee, of which I am vice-chair, is acting of late as if there is more to multiculturalism than celebration of diversity.

Consider, for example, the committee’s successful 2015 Canada Day display which was the subject of a report to council-in-committee on November 23. The display went beyond the usual “tell us where you are from” interactive display and, instead, asked participants to write a message on an “I Love Canada Because…” mural.

For the record, six top themes emerged – natural environment, people, values and culture, safety, family, and general satisfaction with the country. City staff also presented a word cloud, shown at the top of this blog, to illustrate the predominant themes. You can read the full staff report by clicking here.

The real import of the mural is not so much in the answers it found, but in the question it asked: Why do you love Canada? The question springs from an implicit understanding that diversity is a two-way street, that “We’ll accept you, but you have to buy into what Canada is all about, too.”

This represents a real and important maturation in the development of multiculturalism in our country. It’s not just about celebration of diversity. And it’s not even abut embracing the more advanced concept of “inter-culturalism,” which encourages cross-cultural understanding.

Rather, it is about identifying and celebrating those values that we hold in common—the values that are not signs of our diversity but of our unity. And that’s a good thing.

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