I just returned from a month traveling in South Africa. I was fascinated in many ways how it resembled the USA. In fact, the food, culture, and attitudes are so similar, if you blindfolded a couple of Americans and dropped them in Johannesburg or Cape Town it might take them a day or two to figure out they were actually in a different country. Of course, seeing some giraffe and zebra might be a clue.

What was most similar and at the same time very different was the diversity of people. Both countries have been challenged with racial issues. Both have large discrepancies between rich and poor. Both have struggled to integrate the many cultures that make up their population. And both are trying to find a path forward to maintain comfort while embracing change.

When people talk about diversity, they are debating another aspect of difference and sameness. The same qualities that can make a person stand out, can keep them out of the circle of belonging. But if you want to walk in truly exceptional company, it is necessary to keep company with others who are very different from yourself. It isn't always easy going out of your comfort zone feels awkward but it's worthwhile. If you're extraordinary, you are by definition not ordinary. And it's just a small step from there to abnormal, which is when judgmentalism rears its ugly head.

On days when the world seems increasingly judgmental or balkanized, here are what some extraordinary thinkers have said about diversity to inspire you.

  1. "Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me." ? Carlos Fuentes
  2. "Diversity: the art of thinking independently together."? Malcolm Forbes
  3. "We are all different, which is great because we are all unique. Without diversity life would be very boring."? Catherine Pulsifer
  4. "We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community - and this nation." ? Cesar Chavez
  5. "I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort where we overlap." ? Ani DiFranco
  6. "Ultimately, America's answer to the intolerant man is diversity." ? Robert Kennedy
  7. "There never were in the world two opinions alike, no more than two hairs or two grains; the most universal quality is diversity." ? Michel de Montaigne
  8. "It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse races." ? Mark Twain
  9. "There are no nations! There is only humanity. And if we don't come to understand that right soon, there will be no nations, because there will be no humanity." ? Isaac Asimov
  10. "The wise man belongs to all countries, for the home of a great soul is the whole world." ? Democritus
  11. "Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, revelling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community." ?  Bell Hooks
  12. "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."? Martin Luther King, Jr.
  13. "Strength lies in differences, not in similarities." ? Stephen R. Covey
  14. "It is never too late to give up your prejudices."? Henry David Thoreau
  15. "Human diversity makes tolerance more than a virtue; it makes it a requirement for survival."?  Rene Dubos
  16. "In each human heart are a tiger, a pig, an ass and a nightingale. Diversity of character is due to their unequal activity."?  Ambrose Bierce
  17. "Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven." ? Yiddish Proverb
  18. "Variety is the soul of pleasure." ?  Aphra Behn
  19. "We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color."?  Maya Angelou
  20. "Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty."? Albert Einstein
  21. "We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn't a matter of political correctness. It's a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith." ?  Barack Obama
  22. "We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same." ?  Anne Frank
  23. "Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." ? Apple Inc.