Uniqueness Versus Diversity in a Society [Archives:2000/25/Culture]

June 19 2000

Eng. Mohamed Gabr Bin Gabr
Ph. D. Student U.S.A.
A question that always puzzles me is what is better and healthier for a society, uniqueness, or diversity? Which society is more fit and healthy – a society with such a diverse population like the United States, or a society with a uniquely unified population like Japan? This question will probably never be answered from the point of view of social science experts, but let me try to find the answer from an engineer’s point of view. There is an interesting theory that seems to be very applicable to this particular unanswered question.

Shannon’s Theory:
Shannon’s theory is important in communications engineering. Even though Shannon’s theory is widely used among the engineering communication sector, it can be applied to our social life as well. Shannon’s theory gives us a method of measuring the information gained by merely observing the outcomes of any given event. Let me give you an example to clarify Shannon’s theory. Life is a chain of events, and every event has certain possible outcomes. Every outcome of an event has a certain probability. By observing these outcomes, we gain information. Let’s assume that the event of a presidential election in country “X” was held this morning and that the outcomes of the election would be announced in the 9:00 p.m. news. It is widely expected that the acting President would win the election. When the news of his victory is announced, you gain very little information because the probability of his winning the election was very high. However, if the news announced that the acting President lost the election, then you would be surprised and would gain a lot of information because the probability of his losing the election was very low. The reasons and circumstances behind the President’s loss are “the information” that gets added to your knowledge. These reasons were not obvious to you before the outcome of the election event since you initially thought the president would win. Now, I am sure you agree with Shannon when he implied that the smaller the probability of an outcome of an event, the larger the information gained by observing this event and its outcome.

Probability and Information:
Now, let’s elaborate on Shannon’s theory by exploring how diversity can contribute to gaining more information by studying the event of throwing a die. If we throw the die that has six different faces numbered from one to six, the event of throwing the die has six outcomes {the face to be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6} with the probability of each outcome to be 1/6. So by observing the event of throwing the die, we gain information about the number of the die’s upper face. Now imagine if the die’s sides are all labeled with the number three, consequently you will gain no information by watching the outcomes of throwing this die, since its upper face will be three for sure. Similarly, Shannon’s theory implies that the more diverse the outcomes of an event, the lower the probability for a single outcome, and the smaller the probabilities of the outcomes, the more information you gain by observing this particular event and its outcomes.
Now, I am sure some of you will jump and say: not all information is always good to learn. This is true and that is why God has given us brains to distinguish between the good and bad information, and the will to use the good information and to reject the bad information. But if the diverse outcomes of an event do not exist in the first place, we would never get the opportunity to gain new information and knowledge. Needless to mention that we would be the same as we were 100 years ago. So, how can we apply this powerful theory to our social life? One way of applying this theory is by extending and applying the method of diversity.
Why do we fear diversity?
Most Arab countries, especially Yemen, fear diversity. What I mean by diversity is the multi faceted differences prevalent in our society such as: religious faith – Zaidi and Shaffee, or our dialects, different ways of pronouncing the letter ‘Gaf’, or our geographical origin, Sanani or Edini, or our political parties, Reform or Socialist and so forth. Most Arab countries will not give citizenship to someone whose father is not from the country concerned because we fear diversity. We all want to be from the same origin and with the same idea, but we forget that diversity in ideas and culture is a healthy thing to acquire in a society and, therefore, we should encourage it. Diversity will protect us from isolation and falling into the trap of believing ourselves to be a unique super race as happened in Germany and Japan. During the second world war millions of Jews and Europeans died because of the Germans’ self styled belief in themselves as a unique race, and millions of Chinese and Koreans died because of an identical belief in case of Japan.
The importance of flexibility and patience
Again, some of you may start jumping and say we are stronger by believing in one idea. Again I will say, let’s be diverse in exploring all kinds of ideas. We should be flexible and learn how to listen to ideas that are different from ours. We should learn how to give every one the chance to explain his/her idea and defend it without fear of prejudice and pre-conception. We should be open-minded and investigate new ideas generating from within us or learnt from other societies in this large universe. We should learn how not to be biased by our affiliation to a party or to a geographical area or faith background when we discuss different ideas and when we select the best idea. When one idea gets the majority support, we should be united behind that idea. The people, whose ideas are not preferred, should learn to accept the majority idea and support it even if they believe strongly in their idea. In the end, it is better to start working on less lofty ideas than cling to an idea, which is apparently very inspiring, but less practicable. Time is bound to make people see what you saw ahead of them. But in most cases, the majority idea is for the most part the most acceptable one especially if all the other ideas got a fair chance to be explored.
From my experience in college, where I meet hundreds of students from all over the globe, I have observed that every group of students from one country tends to think the same way. When we all discuss a problem in class, it is amazing to see how many ideas have been suggested to solve one problem. Sometimes, a different group comes up with the best idea to solve a different problem. This is because every group has different backgrounds and experiences in life and from their experiences they learn what the best solution is for a certain problem.
In Yemen, we need to be happy with our diversity and should welcome talented people with ideas to Yemen to enhance the extent of our diversity. However, we should only consider a selective diversity that will enrich the country economically and educationally. Many qualified people from other countries may come to Yemen to live under the umbrella of the marginal democracy and freedom that they do not find in their own country. Even people from more advanced societies may come to Yemen to seek the opportunity of investment that they do not find in their own countries due to the stiff competition and limited resources.
Now, if I ask my reader, which society is better: America or Japan? I can assure you that some answers point to America, some answers will name Japan and some answers may even mention Afghanistan. You can never get the same answer for one question. This demonstrates that diversity is an inescapable fact of human nature and can never be suppressed.

Who are we to reject God’s will?
Maybe we can find the answer in religion to the question, whether diversity is good or bad for society. God created us with such diverse features relating to skin, color, tongue, language, faith and species. Take a look at the genetic level. It has been proven that the more genetically diverse the parents, the more healthy and intelligent their child is likely to be. In fact, we should encourage marriages between members of different cities in Yemen, instead of holding on to the old pre-Islamic traditional canon which emphasizes marriages within the families or the tribe. We need a healthy generation, more fit physically and mentally. So, if God chose diversity in creating this universe, then who are we to reject diversity in our society?
Those who think that they can keep Yemen or their society away from diversity are simply dreaming because we no longer live in the 50s where the Imam managed to isolate Yemen from diversity. We are in the age of the super highway for information where different views and ideas can come right to your living room by satellite and to your office by the Internet. As a result, we as a society should start to learn how to deal with diversity, take the best of it and be united behind the best outcome that diversity can provide us with. Otherwise, we will be a society prone to settle our differences by force instead of intellectual discussion.

Accepting others
It is so easy to accept each other when we believe in diversity, because we will not take it personally or be offended when people are different from us.
However, accepting diversity is not simple; it needs lots of patience, practice, and compassion. Accepting diversity is the second step after efficiently practicing democracy. Democracy envisages accepting the idea of debating issues and ideologies based on party lines and accept the people’s judgment. Diversity is to accept the idea after discussing it with other different issues and ideologies and adopt the best view. When an agreement cannot be reached, people’s votes are the final deciding factor.

Individuals rule the society
As a society, we can start to practice diversity inside our family. A father tries to listen and discuss with his children and his wife their views instead of dictating his views and ideas. I can assure you that in the beginning it will be a very difficult task to accomplish but it is worth the try. The father needs to persist in trying and the family needs to be patient with the father’s slow progress. With time and practice the apparently impossible will become a part of our thinking process.
So to conclude, the more diverse the society, the more diverse the outcomes of the events, and therefore the more knowledge and information the society can gain.

* Claude Elwood Shannon was born in Petoskey, Michigan on April 30, 1916. He spent a productive 15 years in the Bell Labs, when he published his Information Theory in 1948 at Bell Journal.

Yemeni Children actively participate in The World Child Festival
The UN sponsored World Child Festival on Peace is being held in Basel, Switzerland between 14th and 26th of June 2000. In 1997, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the year 2000 as the ‘International Year for Culture and Peace’ and in 1998 decided to declare the years 2001-2010 as the ‘International Decade of Peace and non-violence for the children of the world’. UNESCO has been supporting this by creating school curricula on peace education and other activities, which in other words will lead to the creation of the culture of peace and cross-cultural understanding in the world.
Switzerland is hosting the festival which comprises 2000 children from all over the world representing their respective countries as the ‘Ambassadors of Peace’. The activities are being jointly organised by three countries, Switzerland, Germany and France. The children from Yemen are being hosted by Swiss families and various activities will be organised for them, during which children will have the opportunity to demonstrate their culture and traditions through music, painting, discussion groups, and other materials brought by them. The children will have the opportunity to get to know others from different parts of the world through both formal and informal discussions and visits to different schools in the three countries. The main theme throughout the discussions will be ‘Living in Peace’ and how to create understanding in countries and between countries.

The Programme of activities:
The opening ceremony of the Children’s World Festival will be in the city of Mulhouse, France in which a world wide gastronomical buffet will be held with dishes from different parts of the world. The programme also consists of an intercultural rally to the ‘Europapark’ in the town of Freiburg, Germany to present to the future Junior Ambassadors the architectural heritage of all the countries of the world. Other activities consist of joint activities on art, music, drama, etc. A Press Conference will also be held for the children at the Swiss National Knie Circus Radio and children’s newspaper and the Internet. On the Day of Life the junior ambassadors will plant a Tree of Peace and prepare for their accreditation ceremony. The children will also be introduced to dignitaries in Switzerland and Nobel Prize winners.On the last day and the closing ceremony, the Junior Ambassadors will present their letters of accreditation to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who will deliver to each of them a symbolic diplomatic passport in the presence of Nobel Peace Prize Winners in the city of Basel, Switzerland. Each child representative will read out a speech representing their respective countries addressing the UN Secretary General and declaring their own views on what is happening in the different countries and urging the UN to promote peace in the world. There will be a reunion of all the Junior Ambassadors in the year 2002 to meet and discuss the developments in the world since their first meeting in 2000.

The Yemeni child delegation will present films and documentaries on the different aspects of Yemen. They will perform a traditional Yemeni dance, with the children wearing costumes representing the different parts of Yemen. A play will also be performed on the theme of war and peace in English. Some of the children will read out poems they have written on the state of the world and others will present paintings, sing and make music. The children were officially seen off by the Minister of Culture and Tourism. Supervisors from both the ministry of culture and the National Commission for Unesco, ministry of education are accompanying the children, and will be responsible for them throughout their stay.
It is sincerely hoped that these children will be able to present a good view of Yemen to the world and let the world know of the peace initiatives made recently by Yemen with its neighbours which will be a statement of Yemen’s stand on peace. But as children of the world and the children of peace they should have one voice in addressing the world leaders on the different themes that affect peace in the world.
However, it is also the Yemeni children’s statement to their own country in terms of demanding their rights as children. Yemen signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and this has many implications apart from the ethical obligation that every country has towards its children in terms of providing the basics and also avoiding wars in order to achieve the basic right of survival. If we are to have a responsible generation who will be good leaders of the future, we as adults have to provide the means for this present generation to transcend the limitations of poverty, armed conflicts, and all kinds of suffering that deprivation brings. Adults have messed up the world in all ways and it is time we gave the opportunity to our children to change the course of events and create a better world in the future the world they will inherit.