The choice is ours. We can acknowledge our differences, address one another with dignity, and unite in our communities to address local needs and resolve local problems. Or, we can accept a world of hostility, disorder, and ultimate collapse as our children’s inheritance – and let the vision and the treasure of the American idea slip away.
Some may say that it is too late. Or, that their principles are too important to be compromised.
I say that the United States was conceived in controversy and that the powerful vision of the founders came with recognition that strength in unity can only be founded upon diversity.
Indeed, it will be argued here that diversity is the foundation for strength, and that the United States Constitution is a visionary assertion of this belief. They gave us structure. It is our responsibility to give it character.
Given our great diversity, what exactly does it mean to be an American? The answer that we choose as a nation will determine the shape of our future. We will be returning to this question again and again throughout the forthcoming book.
We find ourselves confronted today by one of the great tests of history, a direct challenge to both the intent enshrined in the Constitution and the coherence of the American vision that has been gradually maturing for more than two hundred years.
Perhaps we have lost our way for periods of time, stumbled, gotten sloppy. But now it is time to pull together. And, in all practicality this can only take place in the context of our local communities – the home of democracy and seat of civil order.
In a free society, stability cannot be imposed from above. The kind of strength we seek is grounded in trust, and the dependability of personal relationships.
I am not writing about a “recovery” from crisis in the normal sense. Rather, I submit that we stand at the threshold of an unprecedented turning point, one that offers us a window of opportunity to reaffirm and assert our exceptional and multifaceted identity.
In considering our approach to new and unexpected challenges in a rapidly changing world, we are positioned to make positive changes, both pragmatic and ethical, that would have been impossible otherwise. I believe a creative process is now underway that would not otherwise have been possible.
A tough lesson like this can correct weaknesses and imbalances that have led to these crises, but success can only be built on the time-tested principles that have made America an attractive model for the world.
We will go on to consider the foresight of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that led to the system of protections, the checks and balances that makes this nation what it is. First, however, let’s examine the reasons that diversity has ensured American strength – not as a nice idea, but as a pragmatic necessity.
When, as individuals or groups, we address a problem or plan a project, the more varied the perspective and experience that is brought to bear, the more creative and effective will be the solutions found. This is an irrefutable truism.
In many institutions, and particularly in government, people are often afflicted with a condition called ‘group-think’. Everyone thinks the same way and listens only to those they most respect or fear. Consequently, groups often ignore obvious fallacies and misperceptions. Not only that, they tend to scorn perceptive critics as trouble-makers.
Our resistance to accepting diversity is often based in our discomfort with those we perceive as “outsiders”, who look or think differently than we do, or who come from unfamiliar cultural backgrounds. Yet, differences constitute the essence of diversity, and they can sometimes stimulate our thinking in ways we can ill afford to live without.
Why are we afraid of new and different ways of thinking? No one is asking us to change our minds.
Aristotle said that “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
The opportunity to explore the world through the eyes of other people is a blessing and a gift. A life filled with diversity is an adventure that never stops giving.
Next week: Unexpected Wisdom