(God) did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world.
— Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin
Utah’s population is growing and diversifying. Each year, birth by birth, death by death, and migrant by migrant, the population changes. We are growing, aging, diversifying, and urbanizing. Today’s population is dramatically different than just three decades ago.
Last year, approximately 21,000 more people moved into the state than moved out. That number will likely be even greater this year. These newcomers create a state that is more diverse, more progressive and more open to new ideas.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the human family. Some of my thoughts have been spurred by the presidential election, some by my personal religious study, and others by my day job as a student of the Utah economy. I’m fascinated by human diversity and how people respond to it.
I like to think of the human family as a universal family. In my faith tradition that means God created each of us, loves each of us, and cares about our well-being. He loves our differences because he created them. His genius is creation. This includes Mother Earth, which is a testament to the beauty and richness of diversity, and all of humanity with our proclivities, talents and foibles. For me, in a very real sense, diversity is the brilliance of God.
It’s as if the human family is a very large symphony. The string, brass, woodwind, and percussion sections all join together to create a musical masterpiece. If all the instruments were the same, it would ruin everything.
Unfortunately, people often get caught in the trap of thinking that if you are different, you aren’t as important or valuable. Or worse, some people treat people who are different unfairly. We let our closed minds limit the way we engage with others. This is particularly troubling in a state with a religious majority and minority. Let’s be honest appreciation for diversity goes both ways.
Let’s go back to the symphony metaphor. Does the fact that Utah and Salt Lake are becoming more diverse make the state better or worse? When we add a new brass or string instrument to our orchestra do we make a better sound?
I think we do, but too often we get cloistered in our sameness and forget to embrace and to love and to care for the broader human family.
It’s no secret that Utah has always been somewhat outside the mainstream of America. We are conscious, and often proud, of our peculiarities. But we also want to be viewed as an attractive and cosmopolitan state and an attractive place to work and raise a family. We want outsiders to feel welcome here. We want people to see us as a state that is on the move. A key ingredient to our progress will be how we embrace greater diversity.
The next several years will be telling for Utah. Will we further modernize our liquor laws? Will we continue to be a leader in serving refugees? Will we magnify the interfaith dialogues that strengthen and deepen our social fabric? Will we become better neighbors and friends to the newcomers in our state? Will we recognize that our universal family includes more than just piccolos?
My colleague at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, Dr. Pam Perlich, characterizes Utah’s demographic trends as “pervasive, ongoing and irreversible.” They are also compounding. Give Utah a few more decades and we will be much more similar to our national counterparts.
I think we should challenge ourselves to be more open, more connected, and more global in our thinking. I think we should remember and respect the common threads people share and the differences too. I think we should recognize human diversity in our neighborhoods, work settings, faith communities, and public square as not only a good thing, but a great thing. I think we should reassess cultural behaviors that limit and divide us and embrace actions that build a more inclusive Utah.