Protect Our Diversity

Many years ago, sitting in a Starbucks, my brother told me that I should be careful because not everyone wanted the diversity I was promoting. His warning struck me as odd. At the time I was partners in a business that facilitated diversity training and change dynamics. I was traveling to many places in this nation, north, south, east, west, and places in the middle, to work with people in corporations and schools and communities who’d come up against the startling reality that all people do not share the same reality, that equality is an ideal not yet realized, that we are a nation defined by our other-ness.

When I was in school I was taught that the USA was a melting pot, a hot crucible into which people of many backgrounds, creeds, and colors were transformed into something stronger. I was taught that we were a nation of immigrants. It is printed on our currency: e pluribus unum. Out of the many, one. Why, then, would I need to be careful? Diversity was not something I was promoting, it was (and is) our circumstance. It was an identity I was helping people navigate in their workplaces and communities.

I read somewhere that the real challenge of the American Experiment is that we have to reinvent ourselves everyday. Because we are not (and never have been) able to share a common ethnic-religious-origin story, we must strive everyday to create a shared story. We create our story. We were, at our inception, an experiment in other-ness. To insist that we were meant to be singular – white and Christian – is a concoction. Our shared story begins with the single common thread that runs through most of our ancestral paths: we came from some other place seeking freedom in one form or another: religious freedom, freedom from persecution, the freedom to pursue opportunities. What binds us, the single story-blanket under which we can all crawl, is our diversity. Out of the many, one.

There is and always has been a tension in our story creation. Each new wave of others is resisted and often persecuted by the previous wave. When, in a nation of diverse backgrounds, in a country made strong by its multiplicity, does one actually become an American? And, what does an American look like? And, how far are we from living the ideal of all being created equally? With liberty and justice for all? It’s a moving target at best. It is a worthy ideal and worth the struggle.

The Experiment, like all experiments, has had some miserable failures. It has taken some giant strides forward. It is riddled with paradoxes and often runs into a hard wall of hypocrisy. We’ve torn ourselves in half and pasted ourselves back together. We’ve had our share of hate-mongers and xenophobes. We have one now. And, we always transcend them because we do not run on fear or anger but on promise and opportunity. The conservative impulse is always at odds with the progressive desire. It provides the heat for the crucible. It provides the tension for creativity and growth.

The greatest centers of innovation and entrepreneurship in the history of humankind have all been crossroads, places where many cultures cross paths and come together. Difference is a great opener of eyes and minds. We are an intentional crossroads, a meeting place by design. Our make-up of differences might be the single reason why we have grown as a nation of invention, advancement, and possibility.

In one aspect my brother was right: I should be careful, we should be careful to protect and keep the ideal in the center. It is worth marching for, it is worth challenging the fear-mongering and stepping in the way of a leader who plays on anger to create division. We should be careful to honor and steward The Experiment forward to the next generation of diverse Americans.

 

 

 

Speak Your Truth

old photo of an old watercolor. I did this painting sometime in the 1980's

old photo of an old watercolor. I did this painting sometime in the 1980’s

Words hook me and lately I’ve been paying attention to the difference in the phrases:

  • Speak the truth, and
  • Speak your truth

One word makes a world of difference! Literally, an entire world of differentiation is made in one little word. “The” truth or “your” truth?

Outside of every courthouse in America is Lady Truth wearing a blindfold and holding a tipping scale. The idea is that truth is objective and fact based. Truth, so the symbol implies, is blind to any personal consideration and justice is equal to all who enter the marble courthouse. It’s a concept that was firmly ensconced in the age of reason with roots running back to the Greeks: truth is something neutral, measurable, concrete, fixed, and external. In such a construct, inner truth is suspect because it is subjective and, at best, fluid.

I’ve sat on a few juries and was reinforced in the notion that the lawyer who told the better story always wins. Truth in the courthouse was as malleable as truth outside the courthouse. The point of the whole exercise, a prosecution and a defense telling opposing stories to a captive group of citizens, is an exercise in subjectivity. Whose version of truth do the captive citizens embrace? Truth, in the courthouse, is an agreement.

Also, there are a myriad of forces at play in the epicenter of the symbol and few are fixed, blind, or measurable. For instance, a public defender with a mountain of cases does not stand a good chance against a modestly prepared prosecution. The story is already tipped when the circumstance of the play is “someone stands accused….” If truth were fixed and measurable, millions of Americans would not be glued to their televisions each night watching Law & Order. Truth makes for good drama because it is a matter of perception. Truth is perception.

We live in the age of news as entertainment (I’d make an argument that we’ve digressed into the age of news as marketing ideology – but that is a post for another day). For instance, listen to the news as told by MSNBC and then flip your dial to FOX NEWS and you’ll see what I mean. Then, for grins, listen to the same series of stories as reported by the BBC. We regularly apply two words when debating our news-of-the-day that make me shake my head with despair: slant and spin. Truth is what we want to believe – or, more to the point, what others want us to believe.

And therein lies the hook. Because we hold dear the notion that truth is neutral, external, and objective, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we are willing to abdicate personal truth. We blunt the inner guides for what we are told to think, feel, and believe. We become passive. If truth is fixed and external then the inner voice is all but meaningless. Self-doubt is the blossom. The symbol of blindfolded Truth is accurate but it is a different kind of blindness. Seeing is as much internal as external. Experiences are interpreted; there will always be conflicting points of view. That means there will be multiple truths. Always. Isn’t that the definition of subjective?

The only real measure that matters is inner truth. At the end of the day, in the dark of your private space, there is no one other than yourself to ask (and answer) the question, “Did I speak truth or did I spin things.” Words matter. Words create. Truth is the name we give things.

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Eve, by David Robinson

Eve, by David Robinson

Take Off Your Blindfold

533. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

We were talking about illegal immigration. He is very conservative and was adamant that “illegals are breaking the law!” He exclaimed, “The law is the law! They’re breaking the law and should feel the consequences of their actions.” He made his proclamation about the black and white nature of the law and its consequences as he was lighting a joint – and the hypocrisy of his actions did not occur to him, not even for a moment. And although I found the moment absurd I did not think it was remarkable. As a successful white male he has always had a different relationship with the law and power than, for instance, the person trying to sneak across the border to find a better life. Things look differently at the top of the pyramid than it does at the bottom. When you are at the top, claiming a moral authority is part of the gig even though it requires holding others to an absolute code that you have never held yourself. I suppose it is the nature and necessity of power-over-others to excuse your self from participation; the need to control is a specifically exclusive act.

Of course he is not unusual. Tom taught for many years, long enough to see his students become adults – some with families, some even became teachers themselves. He used to laugh at the maniacal adults who wanted to impose strict rules on their children and students, rules that they would never have adhered to themselves. I’m fairly certain the proponents and makers of our current culture of testing never experienced nor would tolerate the madness they are now imposing on the nation’s children. Tom used to say, “Are their memories so short or is there another agenda entirely?” It was a rhetorical question.

One of my favorite Mad Magazine cartoons was of two hippies beating each other with signs, one read “Peace” and the other, “No More War.” What is it that allows us the peculiar blindness to afford ourselves consideration that we refuse to extend to others? When I am driving and inadvertently cut someone off I think, “Whoa! I didn’t see them.” When someone cuts me off, I am certain they are, “Trying to kill me!” Or making a statement or pulling status or…. I will never grant them the same specificity that I grant myself until I deem that they, too, have a story. Until then I do not see “them;” I see the story I project on their action.

The line becomes less black-and-white; the world becomes less absolute when I consider the human; when I factor in the circumstance, the necessity, the emotion, and the need; with personal story comes nuance and consideration. Lady Justice (both the inner version and the one standing before every courthouse) has never been as blind as she pretends.