What Is Thinking Differently About Diversity?
In nature, diversity is crucial. Diverse ecosystems are better equipped to both tolerate and adapt to change: in an ever-evolving world, diversity means not only surviving, but thriving.
While we instinctively understand and appreciate the value of diversity when it comes to nature, we sometimes forget that it is equally important for our own society, too – after all, human minds are as unique and infinitely variable as the individual trees within a forest.
Just as a forest with a high degree of diversity is more resilient and abundant than one with only a single type of tree, a society with lots of variation in how its inhabitants perceive and interact with the world is richer and more creative than one in which everyone thinks alike.
Planting seeds of curiosity
Many of the people involved in the creation of Thinking Differently About Diversity have experienced significant challenges related to their unique sensory, cognitive, and/or social differences. But in many cases, these difficulties are presented not by those differences themselves, but by the inflexibility, inequality, and inaccessibility of the world and the society in which we all live.
Diversity can only flourish in an inclusive environment, so creating a society in which every kind of mind can thrive means changing the way we view, act towards, and talk about people who think ‘differently’. This takes time, but we can start today by planting seeds of curiosity.
When you plant a seed, you don’t always know what will emerge. But if you create the right conditions, give it some time, and trust the process, something wonderful just might grow.
Embracing diversity at Westonbirt
The huge diversity of the tree collection at Westonbirt makes it a very special place. And, unlike trees in many other botanic gardens, which tend to be grouped according to species, the trees at Westonbirt are planted in a way that embraces and celebrates this diversity.
While such rich variety makes for very beautiful surroundings, the benefits of diversity extend far beyond the aesthetic. A diverse forest means a healthy ecosystem, in which hundreds of different species of wildlife can thrive – from birds and animals to insects, fungi and flowers.
Of course, a diverse forest requires a diverse environment, and the incredible diversity at Westonbirt is testament to the size and quality of the site itself. Across a space of 600 acres, there is plenty of variation in soil, light, and shade, along with gently undulating ground that offers a host of different microclimates, supporting 2,500 tree species from around the world.
Why is biodiversity important?
Diverse ecosystems are more resilient to the impact of climate change, pests, and diseases. Even among trees of the same species, some individuals are able to survive changes to their environment better than others, so having lots of genetic variation is usually beneficial.
A good example of this is the banana plant (Musa species). Although we think of bananas as being seedless, the fruit of the wild banana plant has large, hard seeds, so most commercial banana trees are all clones of a single, seedless cultivar. This is good for mass-producing cheap, edible bananas, but it leaves the plantations very vulnerable. In fact, during the 1950s, an outbreak of Panama disease almost wiped out commercial banana production!
This kind of situation can also occur when a natural disaster happens and decimates the population of one tree species, leaving only a few standing. This creates a kind of genetic ‘bottleneck’ – so future generations of that tree become less diverse, and less resilient.
Why is neurodiversity important?
The modern world is largely set up to suit and accommodate a fairly narrow range of thinking styles, so some of us are able to navigate it more easily than others. Those who perceive, process, and react to the world in a way that varies from the dominant, or ‘neurotypical’ style of thinking are sometimes referred to as being ‘neurodivergent’.
Most of us are familiar with certain ‘categories’ of neurodivergence such as autism and ADHD, although anyone whose mind works in a way that is significantly different from the average might identify as neurodivergent – including people with dementia or a brain injury, as well as those with learning differences such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia.
Lots of neurodivergent people face significant challenges as a result of their unique sensory, cognitive, and/or social differences. ‘Embracing neurodiversity’ doesn’t mean denying these challenges: it means changing the way we view, act towards, and talk about neurodivergent people – so that we include, accommodate, and respect them, instead of trying to ‘fix’ them.