Variety, diversity, and tolerance

THIS issue of variety and tolerance is most relevant nowadays because we cannot deny that we are experiencing today a growing variety and diversity of mentalities, cultures, lifestyles, ideologies, beliefs, etc. There is now a great need to have a handle on this complex issue so that we can also develop the proper attitude and skill of approval and disapproval, tolerance and intolerance toward it.

For one we need to know what good and bad variety is. This is already a very complicated exercise which should not daunt us. More than that, we need to discern the fine nuances among the differences we can observe in the variety and plurality of things so that we can tackle them with great prudence.

In theory, a good variety and diversity is one which stems from a living spirit, and preserves it, defends and protects it. It is not divisive and destructive. Its differences work in the dynamic of complementation. There is a certain order involved, a system that is driven by the principles of the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity.

A bad variety is the opposite. It stems from a lying spirit. And even if it may show some signs of vitality, it actually undermines the organism involved in it. The order that it shows is at best only apparent. In the end it is divisive and destructive.

A sample of a good variety is illustrated in the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians when he explained the unity and diversity of the different parts of the body of Christ to which we are supposed to be incorporated. (cfr 12,12-30) In fact, this is the ideal way of understanding the variety that we can expect in our life and the pertinent sense of tolerance and intolerance that we need to practice.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts,” says St. Paul, “but all its parts form one body, so it is with Christ…If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.

“If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is there are many parts, but one body.”

These words clearly tell us that the good variety is one that is willed and designed by God, our Creator. It is not just our own making. We need to acknowledge this basic truth about ourselves so that we would know how to handle the unavoidable variety and differences among ourselves.

St. Paul continues: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.”

With these words, St. Paul just laid down for us the kind of attitude we ought to have to the different parts of a variety of things that we have to deal in our life. We need to care for one another. And we have to understand that those ‘less honourable’ and ‘unpresentable’ parts of the body can refer to those elements in a society, for example, who are sick or in a state of sin. We have to treat them with ‘special honor’ and ‘special modesty.’

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