'We have far more in common than that which divides us'
So said Jo Cox, the MP tragically murdered at the height of the EU referendum campaign last year. One year on from the MP's tragic death, her words could not be more significant, relevant or important.
Despite several decades of globalisation, international co-operation and interfaith integration, the world today is massively divided. Not only is our planet filled with tensions, prejudice and rivalries between opinions, beliefs and perspectives, but there is also far too much irrational hatred and fear. We need to look no further than 2016, when the UK's vote to leave the EU and the US vote to elect Donald Trump as President both demonstrated how whole nations, populations and groups of people have been divided on key issues of identity and society.
Our politicians have been clashing over immigration and multiculturalism, recent terrorist attacks have led to fears and suspicions of certain religions, and social changes - such as the legalisation of gay marriage in the west - have led to deep divides within the global community.
A very easy response to all this division and disagreement is to pull up the drawbridge. It's perfectly natural to fear the unknown, and so perhaps a natural response to seeing a different culture, belief system, set of rituals or way of living is to fight against it. We don't like to feel like "our" way of life is threatened, that our "tribe" might be under attack. Yet whilst it is easy to get into an "us vs them" mindset, this doesn't mean it is right. In fact, this "us vs them" is the most dangerous response to diversity possible.
There is so much diversity and difference amongst mankind, and this is something to celebrate, not fear. In today's world, there are approximately 2 billion Christians, 1.5 billion Muslims and 1 billion atheists, not to mention the literally billions of followers of other religions and beliefs. 1 in 10 people are gay, lesbian or transgender - even if their country refuses to recognise their identity - and we all live in very different cultures and countries.We are not all clones of one another, wearing the same clothes and saying the same things, and why would we want to be? It's very easy to judge, reject and fear those of different religions, sexualities and cultures, yet this is not healthy or wise. Instead of being a source of criticism and confrontation, diversity should be a source of celebration and progress.
When we reach out to and learn about other faiths, identities and ways of living, every single one of us benefits. Not only do we grow as individuals - learning so much about ourselves and what it means to be human - but we also grow as a society. Our communities become more progressive, more informed, more successful and more inclusive. By sharing perspectives, conversations, and ideas about what it means to be human, every single person becomes stronger, wiser and kinder. Diversity enriches us all, helping us cultivate knowledge and insight which we would have never otherwise attained.
Each and every one of us is - at the end of the day - on the same journey through life. We have all been born in the same way, and we will all die. We all want to be happy, and we all want to avoid suffering. We are all human beings, all driven by the same impulses and desires, and all searching to find our purpose, our place and our happiness in this life. We have all suffered, and we have all had success. By recognising that we are all essentially the same, we can replace criticism and confrontation with compassion and understanding. This frees us from the chains of fear and condemnation, and opens our hearts and minds to progress, positivity and success.
If we let fear, judgement and differences divide us - however big or small they may be - we will end up destroying humanity. Hate breeds hate, and the more we judge and reject others and their beliefs, the unhappier our society will be. The only way to move forwards as one humanity is to connect with others, to embrace diversity, and to focus on what brings us together.
Diversity should not be a source of hatred, anger and division. It should lead to celebration, progress and prosperity. Let's stop letting fear, judgement and criticism win, and recognise that every single one of us is a human being belonging to the same human race.
A failure to act against the dangerous division, tension and prejudice growing in our society would be a catastrophic mistake. It is a mistake that our grandchildren would never forgive us for.
And so we now have no option except work together - as one - to create the loving world in which we all deserve to live.