The poet Pauli Murrey once stated, “True community is based upon equality, mutuality, and reciprocity [that] affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together.”  This quote eloquently describes the importance of embracing diversity in community. By defining community as a connection, Murrey’s powerful statement reminds me of my personal foundation of belonging: home.
Growing up, my family moved frequently. I attended 9 different schools and lived in 7 different houses across 3 different states before coming to BYU. As a young girl, I struggled with feeling as if I did not have a true home, at least not in terms of a physical location. As such, I have always struggled to answer the question, “So, where’s home for you?” because in my heart, I know that “home” is much more than a list of places you have lived—it is a matter of who you connect with.
While living in Bolivia, I found a piece of home. There is a wonderful family of six that lives deep within the heart of the Amazon jungle in a small town called Riberalta. Their home is located on a narrow and rugged dirt pathway where the sun warms the earth and the frogs croak unceasingly. They have a few wooden pallets as makeshift walls with a tarp draped over some of the larger gaps. Sitting atop of the pallets is a small, dented tin roof with a miniature, frayed, and discolored Bolivian flag waving proudly in the wind. There is no floor to cover the rich red earth. There is no electricity. There is no running water. There is no fridge nor kitchen nor food to fill it. Yet, what makes their house a home is the love found therein.
There is a different family that lives in the United States. They live in a large, spacious home that rests on a picturesque mountainside. Inside, there is a warm inviting spirit that welcomes all visitors to enter and stay for as long as they wish. As a bonus, there is even a cute dog to greet you at the door. Unbeknownst to many, this family also spent time without their own home. They once lived together in a small basement apartment after losing a house to the recession. They have lived in many houses that differed in size and shape, but all shared the same spirit. What really makes their house a home is the love found therein.
I consider both of these families and homes to be my own. From an outsider’s initial impression, the differences in socioeconomic status and culture are stark, yet resultingly meaningless because of the connections that have been created. Both homes are representative of who I am because love and understanding overcome all boundaries and differences. No matter where we live, my family (near and far, literal and non-literal) is and always will be a part of my true home. Home is much more than a place of origin. Home is the people you love the most, and the things that really matter to you. Home is a reflection of self.
The most fascinating aspect of this sense of home is that it has no limits beyond the self-imposed. No matter how many different individuals, places, and ideas come knocking, the only time the maximum capacity is reached is when you decide to lock the door. Just like the best of these homes, the best versions of ourselves are found as we remain open to others, striving to both welcome and understand them.
When we learn to keep our metaphorical homes open to others by loving those around us, we form communities of belonging. As mentioned in the initial quote, individual diversity is an important component of community. An person’s language, culture, beliefs, ethnicity, and other defining qualities contribute to their beautiful sense of diversity from those around them. I believe that these characteristics define a person’s identity and are the same qualities that make them uniquely valuable and important.
In order create a home, or community, that embraces diversity, we must learn how to understand others. To understand others, we need to understand ourselves. I would like to encourage a moment of self-reflection to illustrate this point. Who are you? What is it that makes you who you are? Each of us identifies ourselves according to our own priorities, perspectives, and pasts. At times, our most defining characteristics are what set us apart from others, but sometimes they are what bind us together. Our identities are multifaceted and complex, which is a beautiful thing in itself.
Recently, I found a depiction of Christ that widened my perspective on identity—my own and that of others. While strolling silently through Gli Uffizi museum in Florence, Italy, I came across a stunning, little-known 16th-century oil painting by Francesco de Rossi (Salviati) entitled “Christ Carrying the Cross.”  The raw emotion of the piece is captivating. As I looked at the painting, I began to think about the countless depictions of Christ throughout art. His identity as an all-powerful creator, a meek child, a wise teacher, a selfless healer, a gentle comforter, and all other roles are expressed in different pieces. However, there was something about this painting, with its perfect combination of tenebrism, chiaroscuro, and slight sfumato creating a soft, yet striking piece, that utterly transfixed me. When viewed up close, made visible are the crystal tears streaming down His face from the downcast gaze. The Savior is clearly hurting, yet visibly calm as he accepts his grief with composure, unlike the dramatic agony depicted in other styles (such as the Hellenistic). As I paused to admire this beautiful piece, I was reminded of times when I have felt a similar silent suffering, and I knew that this was a Christ who understood me well. What fascinates me most is the identity that Salviati gives Christ: a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.  Of all the roles that Christ plays, the artist chose the humble and rejected man. The artist’s decision to depict this specific version of Christ is telling of how he wishes for Him to be understood, and how he views Him personally.
While reflecting upon this experience, I have come to recognize that I feel a deep connection to this depiction of Christ because it resonates with the same part of my soul that, for so long, felt like it didn’t have a home. It reminded me of the times I felt like an outsider, misunderstood and sorrowful. This Christ was easy for me to connect to because, in it, I saw a reflection of myself. In the same way, it is important for us to seek common ground with those around us, no matter how different we may seem at first. I think that every person is uniquely complicated and has parts of them that yearn to be understood by others. Personally, I love learning about what makes people who they are at their core. I feel that connecting with different types of people throughout my life has been enriching and has broadened what identity, home, and community mean to me. By recognizing who we are, we are better able to understand people for who they are. When mutual understanding is reached, we can finally build a community of belonging because we learn that despite our diversity, we really aren’t very different after all.
In his devotional address at the beginning of the semester, President Worthen affirmed, “Any community must ultimately be defined most fundamentally by what its members have in common. If they don’t share anything in common, there can be no community.”  In fact, community is synonymous to connection. As members of a community, we should strive to emanate the meaning of the word by building bridges of connection in place of walls of division. Our community can reflect our individual strengths and beliefs as we unite through finding common ground within our diversity.
Our communities also contribute to how we are understood. Identity plays a key role in the decisions people make, including how to act, feel, and communicate. In sociolinguistics, the term “speech community” is used to describe a group of individuals (the amount ranging from 2 to infinity) who utilize the same linguistic variety, or the same type of language, under the same conditions. Some examples of speech communities include teams, religious organizations, ethnic groups, companies, nationalities, families, etc. The more closely a person identifies with their speech community, the more their own language patterns reflect their communities. In fact, it has been observed that “language is a profound indicator of identity more potent by far” than anything else. 
With this understanding of speech communities’ relation to identity, it is clear that humans define and express themselves according to what communities they belong to, both small and large. By keeping our communities open to diversity, we are better able to extend our personal homes and build ourselves in the process. President Kevin G. Worthen solidified the need for inclusive communities through the following statement:
“Overly narrow and distorted definitions of community can have devastating effects… At the same time, inclusive communities can become powerful forces for improving the human condition… Thus, how a community is defined and how it is situated are critical to both its success and its desirability.”
As paradoxical as it might seem, an openness to diversity is critical to the strength and success of a community. By welcoming different perspectives, backgrounds, and beliefs, individuals are changed for the better.
Can you imagine the potential power of focusing on what we share with those who differ from us rather than instead of viewing them for the ways in which they contradict us? Of course, these differences are important identifying characteristics, but those qualities can be acknowledged without being devalued or villainized. If I hope to be respected and loved for who I am, how can I criticize another for staying true to who they are? After all, inclusivity is key to community.
To create a campus community, and more importantly, a world community of belonging, diversity should be celebrated and valued. Oh, how boring the world would be if every color were removed, every song just one note, every language a single monotonous sound, every work of art a mere blank canvas, and every human the exact same! Diversity is necessary to a community of connection. By seeking to understand ourselves and others, we can create lasting connections founded on mutual respect and love that result in a strong community where all feel welcome. Let us hope that soon, our personal sense of home can also encompass a diverse community of love.
This post was written by Anna Pulley, a Center undergraduate fellow.
 Isaiah 53
Feature image photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.