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Diversity Is Our Default

Updated: Jun 5, 2022

I run a tiny consultancy strategising on innovative ideas for interfaith projects. We named ourselves Being Bridges since faith traditions provide ways of being in the world and our work aims to be a bridge for dialogue amongst these various ways. So when Nick Pang, who designed the award-winning Smol Tok conversation deck, raised the possibility of collaborating on an expansion set around the topic of diversity, I jumped at the opportunity.

The author, Basil (far left), at the end of a community building session for diverse youths from the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), Singapore. Photo credit: Nazath Faheema.

The idea of conversation as a bridge has always been an intriguing one. Bridges bring together, but at the same time they distinguish. We often think of conversing with people as a way of coming together, of uniting ourselves, feeling like we’re one. But what we tend to forget is that it is also through our conversations (even with friends) that we get to know our differences. We notice little things we did not expect about the other person; little things that are not like ourselves; things that set us apart from the other.

Yes, the beauty of human conversations, and in fact the beauty of dialogue in general, is that in bringing together we also distinguish. But because we focus so much on the positive of unifying, we tend to look at the opposite of unity as a negative. And what’s this opposite of unity? I dare say — without describing it as contradictory — that the opposite of unity is diversity. But just because unity can be a good thing, it doesn’t mean that diversity is bad.

I believe we can have a good unity and we can have a bad unity — and in the same way a good diversity and a bad diversity. We wanted to emphasise this. When Nick and I first started brainstorming our underlying philosophy for Diversity by Default (DBD), we kept rallying around this anchor:

Diversity isn’t a fault; it’s our default.

As a group of individuals living in Singaporean society, we did not start off the same and by some sheer accident end up different, rushing now to go backwards and fix this ‘flaw’! As human beings, we always start off diverse. This default diversity can take different forms but the essence of difference is built into humanity: societies are by nature diverse. It’s just more obvious in a place like Singapore.

And sure, diversity brings about certain challenges, which can even lead to misunderstanding and conflict, but diversity in itself isn’t the problem. So what do we do with it? Here’s where the bridge of conversation comes in.

In the same way that the Causeway bridges Malaysia and Singapore (and yes, I’ve been fully aware since primary school that the Causeway is not technically a bridge), we would not say that it unites the two nations. In fact, we might even say that the connected path between the two countries actually enables us to sense the differences between both, to distinguish them, and perhaps even to accept that they are two different sides of the Straits. It brings Malaysians and Singaporeans together, but it doesn’t unite us — and it doesn’t need to. The job of a causeway, a bridge, even an aeroplane, is to connect.

And this is how we look at DBD. Its job is to connect. Yes, through the conversations brought about by the cards, players might notice a couple of commonalities and this might feel really nice. But really, that’s not necessary. In the playtests we’ve been conducting, I’ve had the privilege of facilitating a couple of small group conversations where nobody had the same view, but the participants gave feedback that they felt enriched and deeply rewarded. Why? My hunch is that their diversity was bridged.

They felt that their diverse views (and really their diverse selves) were heard; they learnt views that were different from their own; and they had the opportunity to show and receive respect as they shared those differences. They walked back and forth on that bridge of conversation, benefitting from the bridge, contributing to the bridge. And like citizens from two countries travelling across the waterway, they did not have to become one. They didn’t have to feel united. They just had to have their diversity heard, and shared, and bridged.

And that’s why we’re not particularly aiming for unity with this project. We’re just leveraging on our natural diversity. As players of Diversity by Default gently meld themselves into these conversations, I hope they start being this same bridge to others, even beyond the game.

Diversity by Default is the sixth expansion pack in the Smol Tok universe. It contains 60 cards that are designed to create meaningful conversations about diversity, discrimination, and inclusion - with a particular focus on how this is experienced in the areas of religion, ethnicity, nationality, and disability.


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