“We the People…” We first hear those words in elementary school but spend a lifetime grappling with what they truly mean. Arguably, when first written, “People” only referred to white males who owned property. Women, poor whites, and most certainly people of color were not afforded the same rights and most didn’t even question that.
In our young country’s relatively short history we’ve witnessed the struggles necessary to ensure that “the People”, and the associated rights we claim, means everyone. It’s been a long, strange trip and we still have work to do but we are a stronger nation as a result of these struggles. Part of what makes America great is our diversity. We learn the most from those who are different from us and those lessons make us better. Better as individuals and better as a nation.
About a year ago I was selected to serve on our city’s newly formed Multiculturalism Committee. It was formed in response to a most unfortunate incident and we’ve spent this past year in deep discussion regarding our role in the community. During our most recent meeting we hit on something that I hope will have a positive impact on our city.
Ada is home to East Central University and there is a fairly substantial international community on campus. We are fortunate to draw students from many countries but we haven’t really tapped into that resource as a community. We are in the beginning stages of a plan to draw these students into our midst, sharing our culture and hospitality with them while at the same time, learning from them.
Years ago, when our children were young, a neighbor hosted an exchange student from Spain. As we became acquainted with Claire we discovered that her host family, for whatever reason, had not taken her anywhere during her time here. That seemed to be a waste of opportunity so we took her with us to Oklahoma City and Dallas. We met her parents when they came to visit her over the holidays and planned to take her to Disney World after school let out in May. Unfortunately there was some misunderstanding regarding her Visa and she had to leave almost immediately after school was out. Still, we were able to show her a bit more of the area than she would have otherwise seen and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from her. Because of that experience I’m really excited about our committee’s plans.
It’s all too easy to stay in our comfort zone, socializing exclusively with people with the same religious beliefs, political views, race, culture, educational level, socio-economic level, etc. It’s easy. It doesn’t require much from us. But it’s also boring and stifling.
When we focus on our differences and separate into little groups of folks just like us, we miss some great opportunities to learn from one another. “Us” and “Them” divides us but “We” strengthens. Just as “a cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart” our nation is made stronger by each of us and our unique contributions to society. We are currently pretty polarized and as a result, our ability to solve problems is limited. But ever the eternal optimist, I’m hopeful that this is just a small blip on the screen of our nation’s history and that we will soon recognize our folly. A bright future lies not in a homogeneous society molded by those with the loudest voices but in a flavorful gumbo of diversity.
I love this excerpt from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:
The widow rung a bell for supper, and you had to come to time. When you got to the table you couldn’t go right to eating, but you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals, though there warn’t really anything the matter with them, — that is, nothing only everything was cooked by itself. In a barrel of odds and ends it is different; things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.
Many children prefer that their foods don’t touch and are suspicious of any dish with unidentifiable ingredients. Fortunately most of us outgrow this and learn to appreciate a flavorful casserole, stew or gumbo. In similar fashion, I see our nation gradually outgrowing our fear of diversity and learning to appreciate the complex flavors of a society in which everyone makes a unique contribution to the recipe. Anyone who has done much cooking knows that sometimes all it takes to elevate a dish from ordinary to spectacular is the tiniest pinch of something. I believe the same is true for America. As we embrace our differences and recognize “the power of we”, our nation becomes better, stronger, richer in flavor. Remember, without the diced onions, peppers and celery… without the small pieces of chicken and sausage…without the Tony’s Creole seasoning…jambalaya would just be rice.