Why do we not embrace other forms of diversity?

In a Facebook note which apparently is a reference to the Amy Cheong incident, MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC – Janil Puthucheary – said:

“Celebrate Diversity – more than just taking the good with the bad, more than just ‘tahan’ the neighbours or understanding other cultures. It means seeing the differences amongst us as a source of happiness, wonder and joy. It means feeling the sparkle and passion that variety gives to our lives. It means seeking a connection at a fundamental level that connects us as humans and yet being open to the possibility of learning more, moving closer, journeying together. Celebrate Diversity, because we are many and ONE.”

I agree with Mr Puthucheary. 

Celebrating diversity and our different identities means we must go beyond tolerance, and accepting each one as he or she is – whatever the race, or religion, or even idiosyncrasies. It means embarking on the journey to understanding – deeper and meaningful understanding of those around us. Tolerance only gets us so far. Understanding, I would argue, is more enduring.

But that is another topic for another day.

What caught my interest about Mr Puthucheary’s Facebook note is his comments about “connection at a fundamental level.. as humans.. open to the possibility of.. moving closer, journeying together”… about “celebrating diversity, because we are many and ONE.”

Again, I agree with the MP.

But at times, words spoken so eloquently and indeed beautifully are not expressed in the same elegance in our actions. When I read Mr Puthucheary’s note for the first time, my immediate thoughts went to the gay community, and the law which makes criminals of them – Section 377A of the Penal Code.

How do we translate what Mr Puthicheary said into concrete action, as far as the gay community is concerned? Presently, the policy seems to be “don’t ask, don’t tell”. In other words, don’t cause any problems by asking for gay people to be de-criminalised. Tolerate. Bury it. Say all the nice things about them – and about diversity, equality, communion and community, etc – but please, the law criminalising them stays.

I guess my question is: when we speak of diversity, understanding, embracing each one who is different, what do we really mean? And are we prepared to put these beautiful words into action and concrete behaviour?

For example, what do we mean – with regards to the gay community – when we say we should seek “connection at a fundamental level.. as humans.. open to the possibility of.. moving closer, journeying together”… about “celebrating diversity, because we are many and ONE”?

Or do words like these not apply to particular groups, according to the majority’s whim and fancy?

If we truly believe in “moving closer, journeying together”, and “seeing the differences amongst us as a source of happiness, wonder and joy”,  then surely we can’t be criminalising these very “others” for being who they are – humans, as Mr Puthucheary says. How are we “many and ONE” when we lay down laws criminalising people for being who they are?

This blog post is not to criticise Mr Puthucheary for he is indeed right. What I would like to do instead is to perhaps ask ourselves if we really believe in the things we say, and how far we are ready to put these into concrete action, and to stand up for such principles.

Or do such principles and pronouncements only apply to racial issues, and not others? Does diversity only reside in the races? Surely, it does not. And are such words only to be said in a superficial manner, devoid of meaning except to persuade everyone that we are a “civilised” people?

Why do we not embrace other forms of diversity?


One thought on “Why do we not embrace other forms of diversity?

  1. Thank you, Andrew Loh, for writing this serendipitous article. I came across this exact quote of Janil’s on Tan Chuan-Jin’s FB page about an hour ago, and reading what Tan Chuan-Jin wrote: “But we all give and take. Most live and let live. Many are proud of this colourful tapestry that we have here. This is part of what it means to be Singaporean. The reaction of some individuals do not reflect the values that the rest of us hold on to. I for one embrace and celebrate our diversity.” And the exact thoughts that popped into my mind at that moment were the sentiments you expressed so pointedly in this essay, although I couldn’t be as eloquent as you are. I was thinking of LGBT as soon as I read the word “diversity,” and I wondered could it be just possible that by this word Tan Chuan-Jin would subconsciously include our LGBT community whose diversity he would embrace and celebrate? What a sense of satisfaction for me when I came across your post soon after as you just took the words out of my mind. My heart-felt thanks! :-))

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