An over-emphasis on diversity often entails societal risks, but through joining the military, I gained first-hand experience in the importance of diversity. Not only does managing our diversity often make for a more comprehensive experience in whatever context, but it also challenges one to adapt his or her proclivities to a diverse group of people, hailing from many different backgrounds, with different values, and from all walks of life.
In the military, the inability to relate to a fellow soldier can be dangerous for your entire company. If one is unable to put personal socio-political preferences aside and accept participation in a diverse group of people, an entire unit of people is put at risk. Given this, diversity is a force that challenges one to consider the more important factors in human existence and how to best engage in that existence, for the benefit of one’s self and those around him or her. To be sure, however, there are certain concerns with forcing diversity into institutions where doing so might compromise the overall quality of whatever operation or project needs to be completed.
In a sense, any effort to develop a student body, for example, with a diversity that mirrors the diversity of the American socio-cultural spectrum will inevitably curtail the extent to which genuine talent, ability and desire are standards for inclusion. In other words, if a priority is placed upon “forced” diversity such as affirmative action, as opposed to a more authentic form, the diverse body will not perform according to expectations (Bowen & Bok, 1998). As applied to the military, an institution not so different from a university student body, an over-emphasis on diversity may challenge people in all the wrong ways in asking them to forgive shortcomings in their fellows’ abilities, which themselves compromise unit efficiency. For many, this kind of forgiveness is asking too much, as those dedicated to their duties, in whatever context, must be able to rely not on the diversity of their fellows, but on their collective ability to perform according to expectations. If all members of a diverse group cannot equally contribute to the group’s productivity, diversity is not served. In fact, in these instances, a negative impression of diversity is created.
We witness the dangers of diversity in the most challenging scenarios. Indeed, it has been proven that when people of diverse backgrounds are placed in scenarios for which they are not qualified, they tend to simply give up on tasks for which they have not been properly prepared (Rodgers, 1996). For this reason, diversity must be a natural consideration in the development of our institutions, as opposed to one that we only have for the sake of having it. Nevertheless, the military provides a most fertile ground for a kind of authentic diversity that reaps rewards for all. In the military, all engaged are dedicated to a common cause, regardless of cultural background. At other institutions such as academic ones this kind of commonality of initiative is not as common, which makes genuine diversity more difficult to develop, especially if equality of contribution cannot be ensured.
Ultimately, my experience in the military allowed me to recognize that diversity allows for a more holistic approach to any give task, providing all those dedicated to the task are committed to its completion. In challenging one’s self to engage with others of varying cultural and ethnic backgrounds, one is able to appreciate the value of diversity in increasing overall efficient and productivity in society. This progressive form of cooperation can only contribute to the over integrity of any institutions, regardless of how difficult it is to develop this environment of cooperation in certain institutions. The experience of cooperating with a group of people from so many backgrounds with which I was unfamiliar was challenging on a personal level and also rewarding, on both personal and societal levels.
Bowen, W.G. & Bok, D. (1998). The shape of the river: Long-term consequences of considering race in college and university admissions. New Jersey, NJ: Princeton University Press
Elliot, R. (1996). The role of ethnicity in choosing and leaving science in highly selective institutions. Research in Higher Education, 37(6), 681-709.