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KD MAGAZINE! 
Posted: September 05, 2007 , ב"ה     כ"ב באלול, תשס"ז                          

 
 
 
   
 

Diversity: Do You Live It or Preach It?

 

Rabbi Shea Hecht
About the Author

Diversity is a political correctness buzz word. It sounds really great. People of all races and religions live all together homogeneously happily ever after. Studies now show that there are cracks in the system, though according to the philosophy that I was brought up with I'm not sure that the cracks have to be there at all.

 

Research from as early as the Civil War documented a problem with people living together from different backgrounds and communities. There was a higher desertion rate among Union Army soldiers serving in companies whose soldiers were a mixture of different ages, occupations, and birthplaces. Though birds of different feathers may sometimes flock together, it seems they are also less likely to look out for one another.

 

A Harvard political scientist, Robert Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone," a book on declining civic engagement, found that things haven't changed and there is still a downside to diversity today. The results of his new study come from a survey directed among nearly 30,000 people in 41 diverse US communities. They were asked how much they trusted their neighbors and those of each racial category, and questioned about a long list of civic attitudes and practices, including their views on local government, their involvement in community projects, and their friendships. What emerged in more diverse communities was a bleak picture of hopelessness in civic matters, affecting everything from political commitment to social attachments and networks.

 

Regardless of the fact that it's become increasingly popular to speak of racial and ethnic diversity as a strength - and though those who preach diversity say that our differences make us stronger - the study finds that diversity hurts civic and social life. This new study has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote, volunteer, work on community projects and give less to charity. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.

 

Putnam claims the US has experienced a marked decline in "social capital," a term he helped popularize. Social capital refers to the friendships, religious congregations or neighborhood associations that he says are key indicators of civic well-being. When social capital is high, says Putnam, communities are better places to live. Neighborhoods are safer, people are healthier and more citizens vote.

 

In his findings, Putnam writes that those in more diverse communities tend to "distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders ... have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television."

 

Robert Putnam's study is really painful. To think that when people live in diversity they care less for each other is a harsh reality. However, I think that the solution to this problem is relatively simple.

 

The community that I live in is diverse. We don't just preach diversity, we live it. As the community changed, others moved away from Crown Heights, but the Chabad community stayed. Our spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, constantly reiterated the religious principle that every person is created in G-d's image thereby encouraging respect for all people regardless of race and religion. Diversity is divisive only when there is a lack of mutual respect.  There is a difference between wanting to live with my own people and not mixing with others yet treating all people with respect.

 

Ultimately, diversity without G-d - without the respect for every one of G-d's creations - can't work and leads to studies like Robert Putnam's. Putting G-d - and respect for all his creations - back into our communities will help diverse communities flourish.

 

Read more articles by Rabbi Hecht 

Rabbi Hecht's Website:  www.sheahecht.com  

 

 
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