In high school I felt different, despite having good friends. Only at college did I realize the folk around me felt different too, and in that we were all alike. One classmate said, “Each of us is unique in our own special way.” (How else could one be unique?)
Cultures and subcultures, too, are all different and all alike. Some differences are regional: Does a six o’clock dinner invitation mean arriving about 6:30 or in time to eat at six? Others are racial, religious, or related to gender. Cultural diversity brings many benefits. It enlarges our worlds, exposes us to new perspectives, and challenges our stereotypes.
We less often admit publicly that diversity is hard. We don’t know what an unfamiliar culture expects or takes for granted. We risk giving unintended offense. We may hesitate to speak freely with people whose experience in sensitive areas is very different from our own.
Diversity isn’t a choice but a fact. The question is how to deal with it. Members of the culture that permeates a community routinely rub shoulders with people of similar backgrounds, but may need intentional ways to diversify their connections. People outside the pervading culture may seek out safe spaces with people who get it: women in consciousness raising groups in the 1970s, Black teens sitting together in the lunchroom. Times to broaden horizons and times to feel at home—all of us need both. And in that, we are all alike.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.