Diversity is first defined (by the Cambridge online dictionary) as ‘the fact of many different type of things or people being included in something.’
Diversity comes from the Latin word diversitas, which is also at the origin of the word ‘different’ (included in the definition of diversity). A difference is based on someone’s or something’s feature, more or less distinguishing one from another. It’s what tells us apart. The idea at the base of the word diversitas, therefore at the base of the word diversity, seems to include both separation and inclusion. I’m a strong believer that differences are important and essential in life. Diversity is too.
Isn’t this what we travel for? For differences? To come in contact with anything new and different? I know I do. I travel to experience in person something I have learned about. Even more importantly, I travel to discover something I haven’t thought about. The unexpected is even more interesting, and diversity and difference play a big role in the unexpected. When I backpacked alone in Alaska, I learned how I feel without speaking to anyone - having had virtually no human interaction for four straight days and nights.
In practical terms, where is diversity? Where do you have differences? You find them in every aspect of life: culture, traditions, people. You find it in natural landscapes, artisanal creations, artistic masterpieces, and the built environment (cities). The most differences in a single place are found in museums. I grew up in a family where cultural expenses were unlimited. There was, nor is, such thing as “too many museum visits” in my family. They are a fundamental part of education, along with in-person exploration.
Diversity is at the other side of the globe, or within your community. By educating ourselves, we also learn that artistic expressions constantly evolve, sometimes clashing, but still tapping into philosophical ideas and aesthetic principles which produce the environment we experience daily. In Italy, centuries of different history, culture and styles are found next to each other everywhere in the historic buildings.
In Marrakesh there seems to be little Western influence in the city or in people’s customs. The typical Moroccan house, the riad, is a specific feature of that land and only recently they have been building based on different styles.
Diversity is all around us, but it also has to be found; and Sonderers tries to tap into this idea. You can find a person you met in a street, or at an event, plain and uninteresting. It happens. But another person might have an interesting personality, a special skill, a lifestyle different from the so called “normal” one, such as living on a houseboat on a canal instead of in a house.
Diversity and differences are essential. Cultures, people, and places are not the same and that is beautiful. Without diversity we wouldn’t travel, read, dream, or improve. The important thing is to focus on the shared values. Respect for nature, respect for elders, respect for family values – there are many shared values all around the world, no matter how different the conditions are.
Last September I was a guest on the Travel Stories Podcast. My interview ended with: “In travel and in life, difference is beautiful and important, but we stress the common ground, and the result is life.”
Richard was born in the US, grew up in Italy, recently moved to the UK after few years in Oregon. Architect by day, but also athlete and photographer, he alternates sports to reading and writing. Find his work in The Dreams' Chest.