For one meal, I felt myself witnessing a glimpse of peace

It was a moment, a glimpse into the heart of God’s idea of diversity. Afterward, my perspective had been altered.

It happened at the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions held in Barcelona, Spain. I wandered into a huge tent where we had been told there would be a free lunch provided by the Sikh community.

What Diversity Looks Like, Rev. Charline Manuel

I was excited to learn about Sikhism and to experience langar, the communal meal shared by all who choose to participate. We were instructed to cover our heads, remove our shoes, and be seated on the floor. The Sikh members were gracious and served the best vegetarian food I’d ever tasted.

No Single Voice Came Through

During the meal, I had a moment when I took the experience inward. I was seated in a tent nearly 5,000 miles from my home with thousands of people from countries all over the world, all seated on the floor, eating the same food, dished out to each of us from the same commercial-size pots in equal measure.

The experience was void of all the things by which we human beings compare ourselves to determine who is the brightest, smartest, wealthiest, or most attractive.

Just for a moment, as attendees were chatting during the meal, the collective sound of 40 or 50 languages being spoken at the same time had the feel of music.

No single voice came through, but all together there was a creative tone. It had the ambiance of angels singing or an orchestra playing.

I looked around the tent at the thousands of people wearing their various cultural attire, some adorned with ornaments, charms, and jewelry with varieties of symbolism.

It was a sea of beautiful colors, patterns no one could have planned that seemed perfectly orchestrated. I likened it to a bouquet of flowers that only a master florist could have assembled.

I noticed people talking not just with their mouths but with their hands, gestures, and facial expressions. The shared expressions created a vibration of harmony and peace.

I can still remember thinking: This is what diversity feels like. And when it sounds, looks, and feels like this, it is a glimpse of peace on earth.

Going Beyond ‘Checking a Box’

There is much talk about diversity today. It is indeed time to engage in courageous conversation, formal and informal. But let us not miss the importance of what comes with diversity.

Too many of us think we can check a box on diversity and our human responsibility to acknowledge differences will be done.

Perhaps we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by volunteering our time. We might participate in a peaceful protest march when a good cause touches our conscience. Maybe we celebrate Black History Month by attending a spiritual service to honor some of history’s notable African Americans. We might read a book on race, bias, diversity, equity, and inclusion. All good things to do—we can learn much by these efforts.

However, when we stop there, we miss the joyous state of our own evolving consciousness toward diversity and all it has to offer.

Lifting the Veil of Differences

Diversity shows the beauty in our differences without making excuses for them. Our differences often unveil similarities we didn’t know we had.

When we are willing to respect each other’s differences, we begin to see that differences make for rich contributions to the whole of who we are.

Real diversity happens when we look around the room and see or notice differences based on race, gender, skill set, culture and ethnicity, physical features, sexual orientation, and personality.

What I felt when I looked around the tent that day was a room full of people who did not look like me. Some did not speak the same language nor wear the same kind of clothing I wear. Yet everyone was on the same level, seated on the floor, no one “higher” than another.

We all had equal access to good service, good food, interesting conversation, and appreciation and respect for the culture under which we had gathered.

The equality of the experience contributed to a belief that we were all truly welcome. “Welcome” was not a phrase or slogan to get people to participate. We all were invited to participate in the experience and contribute according to our own appearance, language, culture, or religious affiliation.

Real diversity happens when we look around the room and see or notice differences based on race, gender, skill set, culture and ethnicity, physical features, sexual orientation, and personality.

This is inclusion. This is what follows diversity done right and equality done genuinely. No one was left out of bringing their authentic self to the communal gathering; the delicious meal was a bonus.

I find joy thinking that our Creator had the audacity to imagine into being a beautiful display of life in a variety of expressions. We block our own blessing if we fail to see the beauty in our differences.

It is our charge as citizens of this manifest world to honor, appreciate, and demonstrate a spirituality that reveals love and compassion with fair and just treatment for all.

If only we could see ourselves the way our Creator sees us, the evolution of consciousness toward diversity would be complete, and greater joy would be our collective gift.

About the Author

Founder and CEO of One Accord Strategies, Inc., Charline is a board and leadership development consultant specializing in board training and development for faith-based organizations. An ordained Unity minister, Charline served as a congregational minister for 22 years in Miami, Florida. She serves on the faculty of the Unity Urban Ministerial School, teaching ministerial ethics, board, and church leadership. Charline has worked with faith-based organizations and guided international mission trips. She is the author of 7 books including Pray Up Your Life and Do Puppies Pray? In addition to serving on the Board of Directors for Unity World Headquarters, she serves on the board of the Parliament of the World’s Religions as secretary and committee cochair of the Global Ethic Task Force.


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