The Downside of DiversityBy: hawkgrrrl
We believe in diversity. Accepting others is virtuous. God is no respecter of persons. After all, diversity creates more equality for everyone, and communities with a varied background certainly have advantages over homogenous provincial groups with unquestioned assumptions.
From a 2007 article about the pitfalls of increased diversity through social progressivism:
Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam . . . has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.
Why is this?
Obviously diversity is good for us individually: being exposed to other ways of thinking can make us more creative and innovative, it can help us prevent errors that groups of like-minded individuals are prone to encounter, and it can also make us more empathetic. Those are benefits to individuals who seek out diverse perspectives. But what does it do to communities?
Studies show that the more diverse a community is (meaning the more variation in how people look, talk, think, and act – lifestyle, customs, clothing, and traditions), the less social capital there is. Social capital refers to the emotional investment people have in their community. From Wikipedia:
Social capital is the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups. . . unlike traditional forms of capital, social capital is not depleted by use, but in fact depleted by non-use (“use it or lose it”). . . social capital “refers to the collective value of all ‘social networks‘ and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other.” According to Putnam and his followers, social capital is a key component to building and maintaining democracy. Putnam says that social capital is declining in the United States. This is seen in lower levels of trust in government and lower levels of civic participation. Putnam also says that television and urban sprawl have had a significant role in making America far less ‘connected’. Putnam believes that social capital can be measured by the amount of trust and “reciprocity” in a community or between individuals
Social capital is the glue that holds a community together, using means like gossip, praise, reciprocity, and vigilance to protect and promote the health of the community; it can also be used by individuals in the form of clout, influence, access to information and power, and (again) reciprocity – mutually beneficial arrangements with other individuals. When a community is highly diverse, trust levels reduce and people engage in a behavior called “turtling.” They withdraw into their own familiar circle like a turtle withdraws into its shell.
Immigration and Assimilation
Does this mean that your grandparents are right to fear the infiltration of immigrants (if indeed they do)? Not necessarily. Communities can integrate people from diverse backgrounds so long as those people can assimilate into the culture rather than clustering into too-small subcultures of like individuals. This is one reason why a common language is valuable in creating social capital. We When we refer to the United States as the Great American Melting Pot (at least that’s what School House Rock called it), we mean that people come in from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, but they all become flag-waving Walmart-shopping citizens pursuing the American dream, one giant case of toilet paper at a time.
Successful communities are the ones that turn resources into people. This is primarily done one of two ways:
- Integrating outsiders. Traditionally, this is done through immigration, conquest, or colonization. For example, the British Empire, while a fairly small nation of only 60 million citizens, has tremendous social capital all over the world through previous colonization. Even when those countries felt more conquered than colonized, a common language, cultural familiarity, and some shared values through prior prolonged contact make it easier for Brits (and all English speakers) to navigate places like Australia, the United States, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, and India, just to name a few.
- Having babies. Where geography is not limited (e.g. living on the isle of Great Britain), increasing citizenship through the birth of future productive, contributing members is a hallmark of success. Countries that do not manage their resources effectively through social capital that benefits both individuals and communities often run into resource shortages that cause them to restrict the number of children (either through mandates or a natural byproduct of scarcity).
Big Tent Mormonism
When we advocate for big tent Mormonism, for the most universal approach possible to the church, there is a lot of heart behind that idea. We don’t want anyone to feel harmed or excluded. It’s so important that people be treated well within the church, that all feel welcome and are invited to come unto Christ. But once someone chooses to join the church, there is something to be said for creating communities with “stickiness” – a reason to keep coming back, a sense of belonging and community. People won’t continue to come unto Christ through the church if they feel that there is no community of believers to support them; they could just sleep in on Sundays and enjoy a nature walk instead. There is a fine line between diversity and lack of community. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the community is the crown jewels, despite the appealing notion that there should be a home study alternative. Having said that, some of those crown jewels are diamonds in the rough at best.
Everything we do as Mormons revolves around creating social ties. Consider the following efforts to bond members (through their homogeneity) to the organization:
- Missionary work bonds us to our fellow missionaries (or war buddies), and through similarity of experience, to all returned missionaries.
- Service within our wards, usually through the Priesthood and Relief Society organizations as well as youth programs, results in bonding among ward members. When members band together to help someone move in or to bring meals to a family in need, the result is more bonding within the ward. Likewise, cleaning the church with other families in the ward adds to the bonds people feel to the community.
- Ward boundaries help create bonding through similar socio-economic traits within the geographic borders.
- Having a lay clergy causes members to rely on each other even more. Giving talks in church, serving at the sacrament table, and filling callings to teach each other – all of these build bonding social capital.
“I’m a Mormon” and the Other Kind of Social Capital
The “I’m a Mormon” campaign is an interesting exercise in bridging social capital:
Bonding refers to the value assigned to social networks between homogeneous groups of people and Bridging refers to that of social networks between socially heterogeneous groups.
The campaign does two things to bridge: 1) it creates more familiarity and acceptance of a wider range of Mormons – ones who look different, act differently, or have different backgrounds, and 2) it makes Mormonism socially attractive to a wider range of people who might want to join the community. Some within the church have criticized the campaign as a PR stunt designed to show the church as being more diverse than it really is. Some would like their own wards to be as diverse as the campaign is (which would be difficult in Mormon-dense areas since boundaries are geographical).
These are complaints about bonding social capital. When there is too much emphasis on bonding, those on the fringes lose out or feel less accepted. A campaign like this can help those on the fringe or potential converts feel more welcome because the campaign is an exercise in bridging social capital. People who are deeply invested in the status quo community can feel threatened by bridging social capital. When there is too much emphasis on bridging, insiders can feel that they have lost some social capital in the effort to attract people who are different. This fear is based on an assumption of scarcity (that social capital is a pool that can be depleted), when in reality, social capital grows on use (use it or lose it). Both bridging and bonding will create more abundant social capital unless free riders (those who don’t contribute or reciprocate or follow the community rules) are granted unwarranted access to social capital. Those who fear loss of status may be free riders in a way too. They may “take their cookies and go home” or recoil (turtle) in response to outsiders.
The parable of the prodigal son is an illustration of this. The prodigal returns as a free rider. He hasn’t contributed to the family. He took his inheritance and spent it. For him to receive a welcome is viewed as a threat by the faithful son who would like him to be spurned and cast out so that he doesn’t lose his standing and his social capital. But the father in the story understands that social capital won’t be depleted by using it. By being welcoming, the prodigal may contribute again. The community will have more resources, possibly. And even if the prodigal doesn’t directly benefit the community, the community will come together in a celebration and other bonds will be reinforced.
Consider your own experiences in Mormonism:
- Is your ward more diverse or less diverse than the surrounding community? Do you have more in common with people inside the church or in the surrounding community? Does that increase or decrease the bond you feel?
- How much diversity is in your ward? Does the diversity make it easier or harder for people to connect?
- How much does your ward welcome outsiders? Is there a good mix of bonding and bridging or too much emphasis in one direction or the other?
- How appealing is the church on the whole to those from other faiths, other cultures, or other countries?