“I remember one night at Muzdalifa with nothing but the sky overhead I lay awake amid sleeping Muslim brothers and I learned that pilgrims from every land – every color, and class, and rank; high officials and the beggar alike- all snored in the same language.” (Malcolm X)
“We are all the same, we are all different”. I am sure you know this expression, but what does it mean exactly? Are we all the same or are we all different? Can we be different and equal, at the same time?
It is clear that all people cannot be the same; we are all different: we all are physically different, we come from different countries, we speak different languages, we have different personalities, behaviors, and cultures, we have different faiths and opinions and –the most important- we all think differently.
Being different is very important because our peculiarities and characteristics are what make us unique and diversity is what enriches our minds and makes the world beautiful. So, being “YOUnique” is the right way. Nevertheless, although being different has such extraordinary importance and beauty, very often our differences and distinctive characteristics become grounds for discrimination and social exclusion. But how can such a treasure turn into an instrument of discrimination?
More and more often, this happens when society classifies a person on the basis of a specific personal characteristic, disregarding the others, and attributing it a negative meaning, idea, image or opinion: in sociology, this is called “social labeling” -a process of differentiating and identifying people- which most of the time automatically leads to create some prejudices and to discriminate –as a result of social exclusion- the labeled person. Actually, the human being has the innate tendency to place a label on everything with the aim of distinguishing it and classifying it; but people are not things, they can not be labeled and this kind of approach just would lead to discriminating them.
Moreover, classifying people on the basis of just one personal characteristic – the so-called “label”- means ignoring all the other ones, which make us unique and different from others, and prevents any deeper knowledge of our essence. Now, most of you are thinking “Oh, yes… many people are used to label, but it is not my case!”. I am sorry to disappoint you, but, you are wrong.
Indeed, we do not realise it, but labeling is part of our everyday life and all of us, very often place label or create prejudices –or we did it in the past- involuntarily, and, what is even worse, is that we do not realise the effects – negativity, most of the time- these labels produce on the labeled people!
We place label whenever we classify a person as being; too fat or too thin, beautiful or ugly, black or white, coming from North or South, from Western or Eastern, believer or atheist, extrovert or shy, rich or poor, man or woman, unmarried or divorced, and so on…
And, we have concrete examples of placing labels in everyday life; at work among colleagues, in the social life among friends, among children at school. I am sure that now you are changing your mind and thinking about when you were a child and used to exclude a classmate because they are too shy or for other reasons you told to yourself.
Unfairly, classifications are just based on one characteristic not only prevents to go beyond and have a deeper and more real knowledge, but also, most of the time, it results in a kind of discrimination when the labeled person is socially excluded because of his “being different”; but we have to notice that in this case “diversity” is wrongly and unfairly perceived by the society as “inequality”.
So, getting back to the essential importance of being different, it is necessary to keep clear the distinction between the concept of “diversity” and that of “inequality”: being different is fundamental because it is what makes us unique and represents a treasure for the community, but “diversity” must not be confused with and unfairly converted in “inequality”, which inevitably leads to attitudes of social exclusion. So, we have to take note that the communities, the society, and all the world are made of multiplicities which constitute the authenticity of the people and the treasure of the universe, and we have to consider them as essential resources in order to prevent that “diversities” could turn into social, civil, political, economic and juridical inequalities.
Then, in which sense can we state that we all are the same?
We can state it in the sense that each of us must be able to be the person who represents us, with our own differences, with our own way of being and thinking, and without these differences being transformed into inequalities. When our differences, as distinctive characteristics, are perceived as “diversities” and not as “inequalities” and are equally accepted and respected by everyone in the same way as all the others, we can understand the true meaning of “we are all the same, we are all different”.
Of course, this does not mean that we must be the same in the way of being, thinking, acting… but, that our way of being, acting, believing, thinking must be equally respected and that equality among people is based on the value of dignity, because –how declared by the article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights- “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, including the right and the freedom of being different, and only in this sense we are all the same. So, we can affirm we all are equal in our dignity and in our right and freedom of being different. By Roberta Piucci