Diversity in the modern context is often seen as simplistic as having certain number of people at one place from different backgrounds – race, color, culture, gender, sexual orientation. Many work places claim to be diverse because their employee composition represents a reasonable mix of people. Same goes for many organizations around the world. At my school, I noted that we have significant number of international students. So if diversity is to be measured in terms of pie chart and excel tables, we stand pretty high. Yet, I noticed an interesting trend, beginning with class room. White Americans sit with white Americans. Black Americans sit with black Americans. Asians sit with Asians. So goes with Indians. I avoided the risk of committing the fallacy of hasty generalization. So I started observing in social settings – in bars and social events. I could still notice it in varying degrees. Picture decorated Facebook walls are a testimony of this. No amount of forced diversity could fix it. People started appearing as tiny magnets who you can keep separately but as soon as external forces are taken away, pieces get down to their original tendencies and form sub-network.
I thought hard to explain this trend. One possible line of reasoning was that our average age could be 27. At this age, we are more or less frozen in our preferences, tastes and the kind of company we enjoy. (Although my aunt who is in her 80’s refuses to agree and she maintains that it will be so unfortunate if human beings shut themselves so early in life and that she continues to learn to enjoy the companies of new people every day). With those frozen preferences comes the impatience with dissimilar persons. Is that what we can call the exact opposite of natural affinity or comfort zone? Language would definitely play a role. Many international students might be having lesser proficiency in verbal English. Those who are proficient might not be patient enough to listen slowly and speak slowly with non-native English speakers. There kicks in the ‘matured’ age of 27.
To validate this explanation, I turned my attention to undergraduate students. They range from 18-22. That’s a very malleable age. One would expect that that would be more interactions there. I started by observing just the kids walking around the campus. Interestingly, the degree of association with similar people was less yet observable. I do not have any numbers though to back up any of the observations as none of this has been a controlled experiment. I do however give a solid credit to the power of observation. Whole Buddhism is based on this power. Today, with the power of big data from social media we are coming to the conclusion that happy people attract happy people and depressed people would make associations with other sad people. Eastern philosophies found that back in the day and so did Quantum physics that all matter emits waves and good or bad interactions amongst matter depends on constructive or destructive interference of those waves. Replace matter in that statement by people, and there you go!
Coming back to the validation of the observation in younger demography, I started asking undergrads I would meet in different classes, lectures, talks, bars, streets, bus stations. Question would not be, “Who do you hang out with?”. Question would be, “Since you came to college, amongst the new close buddies you found, how many of them are not from your native culture?”. Answer will be mostly zero.
I do not subscribe to the idea of diversity whose foundation is based on filling in the quotas. And then creating layers of diversity around the buckets through events or forced interactions. This numerically driven diversity often masks the underlying lack of diversity in action – which is attained by gradual annihilation of boundaries of culture and geography. When people manage to make as close human connections with people of different backgrounds as they succeed in making with people of their own back ground, that’s when you get the true foundation of diversity. And then, there will not be humongous need to create affinity clubs and organize events to validate the diversity quotient of the organization at the top level. The decentralized diversity at the level of people to people understanding will itself be the natural catalyst for voluntary celebrations and events.
Question now is how to lift that decentralized number from zero or minimal to a respectable figure. Is it even possible to fight the original forces of natural affinity and comfort zone to create new comfort zones and new affinities ? In my quest for a solution, I ran into this concept of Homophily – tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others. Apparently, its presence has been found in a vast array of network studies. But can we not find similarity in values? Does similarity has to be always in what music you like, what sports your play or watch and what food you eat?
My knowledge in cricket, or in most sports or in any music outside Indian classical or Bollywood is minimal. I do not share my interest in cooking, in movies, and in fashion and in few others with a whole lot of people. Yet I can say that my closest friends admire similar things in people as I do. Human values are much above any traditional ‘hobbies’ and ‘interests’. They possibly could be key drives for creating decentralized diversity at a mass level.