Diversity is a catchword, not a cause, whenever differences of appearance outweigh different opinions. So long as we reduce our differences to matters of color — of not just black and white but brown, red, and yellow, too — so long as we mistake beauty for brains, so long as diversity is superficial and dissent is tantamount to sedition, we will not be true to the spirit of America.

If diversity is a synonym for inclusion, we have much to celebrate. We have more women and people of color in positions of power than previous generations could imagine. We have more people of different faiths, or no religious faith, in business, politics, and civic life. We have more married couples — of the same sex — than seemed possible a decade ago, than seemed probable five years ago. We have a former president whose name alone sounds foreign to many of our citizens, while his life story is familiar to tens of millions of Americans.

And yet, neither biology nor biography is a guarantee of the diversity we seek. Not when one is inflexible and the other is a narrative with an inflexible theme of sameness: a tale of more than two cities, but a nonetheless predictable plot with a trite ending.

Passing showers blanketed Waikiki's landmark Diamond Head with rainbow in foreground. 9 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hawaii is one of the most diverse places on Earth. Should we not also be diverse in our thinking?

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Where does this version of diversity end? In a word: boredom. For boredom breeds ignorance and complacency in which we fail to realize how shallow diversity is when it is only skin deep; when it is presumptuous to believe — and sometimes racist to assert — that we should coordinate our lives according to our respective colors, as if there is no room for shades of beige, almond, chestnut, chocolate, sienna, honey, sand, or gray.

Diversity of thought, on the other hand, is more multifaceted than monochromatic. We can maintain the mosaic, so to speak, without diluting its artistry or dimming its allure. We can make it brighter by infusing it with enlightened minds, rather than better lighting, because each person is a point of light: a source of revelation about the arc of a single life, which is a universe unto itself; of different experiences and divergent encounters; of markedly different viewpoints about the same vista.

We should encourage these differences, not dismiss them, because we otherwise risk relegating diversity to the realm of cosmetics. We risk becoming the worst sort of narcissists: incapable of seeing — and unwilling to even try to see — beyond our own reflection and opinions, lest we avert our gaze and turn our attention elsewhere; to the men and women of the town hall meeting; to the citizens meeting in line — to vote or volunteer — so they may answer the call of their community before asking a thing of their country.

Above all, let’s be civil in our engagement.

Let us look to engage each other, rather than merging different looks with different outlooks. Above all, let’s be civil in our engagement.

One is easy to spot, while the other is hard to find unless you focus on what you need to hear: not the voices of agreement but the vociferous opponents of comity over conscience, of conformity over courage, of consensus over concern for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Diversity is, therefore, more complex than we may care to admit; but admit it we must, because we cannot form a more perfect union until we invite a critique of our own imperfections.

We can be a better country, provided our definition of diversity is as expansive as America itself.

Diversity abounds in this land of plenty.

Let us cultivate it.

Let us consecrate it.

Let us promise to protect it, now and forevermore.

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