Respecting Diversity: What does this mean?

After the past several years of discussions around diversity and what it means to respect diversity, I feel this has become almost a cliche stamp that is spoken as if it is a universal concept and yet it is not.

We all know the last two years of conflict at Pantheacon regarding that of transgender inclusion within rituals. There are plenty other situations where the concept of diversity has been assessed to have different meanings. There seems to be a lack of understanding about the diverse nature of a word like that of diversity.  Questions or assumptions about what it means to respect diversity are kicked around all the time in our community; on a small and large scale.

What does diversity mean?  How can we respect something when we have not agreed on its meaning?

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary it defines diversity as:


: the condition of having or being composed of differing elements : variety; especially : the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization <programs intended to promote diversity in schools>


: an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities : an instance of being diverse <a diversity of opinion>

Respect is defined as “a relation or reference to a particular thing or situation, an act of giving particular attention (consideration), expressions of high or special regard”.

In accessing the key elements of these definitions I see inclusion of differences and having a high regard for those differences as very clear points in the definitions provided.  I think this is important, and is extremely important in the Pagan community.

I consider myself lucky to have gone to several large scale Pagan conventions and festivals.  Pantheacon topped about 2,500 people this year from all around the country and this has been the case for many years.  Seeing that many people in one space that are different and yet the same is such an enlightening experience.  I love to engage in their differences while celebrating the similarities together, this is one of the highlights of large festivals and conventions.

At these events I get to go to a druid ritual, a Wiccan ceremony and a Voudon lecture all in the same space.  All are welcome, all are celebrated and all are valued.

This is where I think that the Pagan community gets confused on the concept of respecting diversity.  To respect diversity is to honor it.  Are we really honoring it if we are asking people to water it down and make it more palatable for others?  The answer to this question is not that simple but I can say that it is very much like what we call “white washing” in many Black communities.  Pagans always talk about wanting the right to practice and yet we don’t always give that to others within our own community.  Is this respect?  I don’t know but it doesn’t sound like it.

I see diversity as the many aspects of divinity.  All facets of a stone are distinct and different yet are all a part of the same core.  Depending on what angle you look at it from, you might see something lightly different and get a different insight from it the same gem.

My race, religion, ethics, beliefs, experiences, history, ancestors and aspirations are all facets to my own treasure.  One does not overrule the other, all are important and each has its place in my life.  If you are trying to truly understand me, you have to respect all those parts of who I am.  This is what I consider respecting diversity at the core.  No one should assume that any one aspect of me should be generalized or changed in order to be accepted.

Taking that concept and applying it to the Pagan community; isn’t it the same?  All traditions, people, concepts, deities, practices and connections with the divine should be respected.  No one should have expectations to generalize or water down parts of themselves in order to be accepted or honored.  This is not respecting diversity if we have conditions on the diversity we will accept.

It is frustrating to see so many different issues within our greater communities that are splinters coming from the very piece of wood we should worship and instead we use it to create divides.  When we can honor one another for our differences, not be defensive about them, see value in one another and offer understanding, will we be able to say that we are respecting diversity.

And if you are not comfortable in true diverse situations where there is a place at the table for everyone, consider not going into situations or communities where diversity is suppose to be celebrated.  To expect that others will be other than themselves, their training and their history is attempting to contain diversity into a small pill so that it is easier to swallow.  And the beauty of diversity is that you can learn from someone or something regardless of whether you agree or not.  As we say in treatment and counseling, “if you are too comfortable, you are not doing the work”.

I believe the same.  Diversity challenges us to question our thoughts, think about our beliefs and experience something new.  It is not meant to be to your taste all the time, and thus it will help you grow.

* NOTE: this blog post is not a reflection of or directed towards any one person, situation or at all personal.  It is not specifically about gender inclusiveness issues or any one category of any kind.

  • T Thorn Coyle

    Crystal, I agree with you – and have written in the past that if I say that I honor multiplicity in the cosmos and the biosphere, I want to make space for that in my life and my communities. 

    But I also have some thoughts and questions: 

    What happens when a longing for diversity and a longing for justice feel like they are at odds? It seems to me that there are times when we need to ask ourselves for deeper discernment about what sorts of diversity are helpful and which undermine the health of the community. 

    I’m just thinking randomly of the introduction of new species into a biosphere and how that can be catastrophic rather than helpful. More diverse? For awhile.

    Sometimes, in a quest for diversity, we end up in a mush of moral relativism: “Whatever anyone wants to do is OK. That’s just their way.” I don’t think that is always helpful. That doesn’t actually challenge anything in the ways you are speaking to in your post. It just means we do a dance of avoidance in the name of tolerance, and don’t deal with one another about the deeper questions. That does not help us to learn, and as a matter of fact, can weaken the community.

    So, how do we help one another through the process of discernment? How do we remain in dialogue? And where do we draw lines? 

    I look upon my altar at tools that help us with boundaries, with clarity, with open-heartedness, with foundation, with integration. I want to have access to all of those tools to help me learn and grow, both on my own, and in community.

    • Crystal Blanton

      I think your thoughts are valid Thorn.  I think there are many discussions in any community that need to be had around defining that community.  this helps to define what is included under an umbrella and therefore we are able to respect healthy boundaries.  In my opinion, boundaries are healthy where judgement is a different issue all together.  We need to stop confusing the two as community.  

      I think every community (whether a Pagan event or group) should outline the boundaries of that event prior to the event and not judge on practices of others but maybe on things like respecting one another (and what that means).  It is one of the reasons that mission statements are important in my opinion.  

      We have to stay away from judging others practices and deeming something as unacceptable by basing it only on our own judgments and experiences.  I think my point is to say that THAT view point is not a reflection of diversity and we should stop trying to stamp that viewpoint as Respecting Diversity.

      And I sooooo agree that it means we need to talk with each other, stop making assumptions and learn to communicate.  All very challenging things at times.  


      • Lady GreenFlame

        I completely agree.

        I also want to point out something else. We are all human beings with faults and failings. Some of us may need a little more time to be 100%, completely, unfailingly comfortable, both inside and out, with new situations and new things to consider. Can there not be breathing room for people to sit with their Inner Selves and feel and sort through all the new information, situations, and new ways of being diverse that come at them, without being assumed to be bigoted perpetrators?Although I consider myself progressive, I have often thought that progressive Pagans “celebrate diversity” as long as that diversity thinks exactly like they do.

        • Crystal Blanton

          For sure!! Everyone should be able to refrain from situations without fault. I think that is different than expecting others not to have respect for their own beliefs. Respecting diversity is not the same as forced participation but it is holding a space for all to valued and honored.

          • Devon Dixon

            This is a good website that I could tell my school about

  • Amethystlilypads

    Crystal,  I’m sure you have heard about the Trayvon Martin case.  I’m asking bloggers whom I trust to send Trayvon’s mother a tweet, letting her know that we stand with her even as we grieve with her.  I just learned of her URL a few minutes ago.!/SybrinaFulton

  • Takako

    Hi Crystal, we met at PCon. I left you a message on Facebook and I hope you are doing well. As for this blog, I totally agree with you. However it is a slippery slope at times. Ultimately, if we are being honorable in truly honoring diversity we should always be doing a self check so to speak, and have an open ear and heart when those around us provide input. In other words, I think it is important to do a self assessment and be willing to change as needed to be able to embody diversity in our behavior and events.

    • Crystal Blanton

      I agree 100%. Thanks so much for bringing that up. Self assessment is important for so many reasons… Spiritual and mundane.