Diversity is a wonderful thing but do we, as humans, have the capacity to really understand difference?

This was the question posed to the Sauvé Scholars by former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin when he joined us for a special lunch at Maison Jeanne Sauvé. His own answer to the question, if I can infer from his comments during lunch, was that we are eminently capable of understanding difference but doing so takes not only a lot of effort and openness but also the structures to support dialogue.

Mr. Martin’s belief in the importance of building structures to enable understanding is clear from his work in government. People are able, Mr. Martin explained, to become President or Prime Minister because they have a good understanding of their own country but in an increasingly interconnected world it is necessary to also understand other peoples’ countries, especially when working to deal with global crises. As the founding Chairman of the G20 he provided the opportunity for representatives of emerging economies to share ideas and perspectives with those from the developed world (instead of the former having to lurk outside the main negotiations like school children waiting to see the head teacher – as he describes, in his autobiography, happening at G8 meetings). Of course, providing a structure for understanding does not automatically mean understanding will follow; the structure merely allows people to begin work. And when you hope to build a structure to enable a whole society, not just a conference (albeit an important one), to develop its capacity for understanding difference, the challenge is far, far greater.

Step forward Sauvé Scholars.