Rabbi Sacks on Particularism vs Universalism

JInsider (March 2010)

One of the most mischievous and misleading ideas is that there’s a contrast between universalism on the one hand and particularism on the other. Let me tell you, it isn’t so. Every one of us is a mix of the universal and the particular. Life is our commonalities plus our differences. If we had nothing in common, we couldn’t communicate. If we had everything in common, we’d have nothing to say.

So, it follows that my particularity is my universality. By being what only I am, I contribute to the common good what only I can give. And that is what I call, integrated diversity. We share an interest in the welfare of humanity, but every religion, every culture, every civilisation has its own particular way of contributing.

Could you think how impoverished the world would be if nobody spoke French or Italian? We had English as the universal language. Goodbye, for poetry of the Italians. Goodbye, Botella. Goodbye, whoever it is. In other words, our world is made of people sharing their particularity with the universal condition of humankind, which is why I love Beethoven symphonies or Russian novels or the beauty of a Japanese garden. And each of us in our uniqueness gives something unique to the universe of humankind.