Today’s political and social climate in the world and in the United States seems to accentuates disagreement in thoughts and ideologies, give rise to disunity, create a sense of fear and insecurity, and in some cases even loss of human life and destruction. Chaos and confusion are reaching such intensity that they are affecting the fundamental structure of society; uprooting its time-honored constitutions and institutions; destroying the bonds of human relationships; and driving its inhabitants away from their homes as refugees. To counter these forces, significant productive and constructive energy will be required to sustain human societies. One way to look at our community, country, and the world for a path forward is to practice the concept of Unity in Diversity. The American Diversity Report provides an effective avenue for meaningful discourse on the subject.
I was excited to return to Cincinnati to speak on Religious Diversity in our Schools and at Work at the invitation of a Women of Faith event sponsored by American Jewish Committee, Xavier University & the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and the Jewish Community Relations Council. Always a dynamic city, Cincinnati has become an innovative powerhouse. It was an honor to share the lessons, analysis, and strategies gained during my three decades and two books devoted to the topic of religious diversity.
It is hard to turn on the television today or browse current events online without seeing references to stories about law enforcement violence and subsequent retaliation. We can easily see how these stories as well as others have polarized people, not only racially, but politically, generationally and culturally as well. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that electing a new President of the United States means not shying away from these issues.
“Hey, Terry, how about a mint?” my wife offered. I paused for a second before declining. But back to that further down. First here’s a challenge, old and new, that put her mint offer into context.
Years ago, I managed a group of 120 support staff personnel. One of them, Alice, stopped by one day to warn me about a person in the group who allegedly had an offensive body odor and everyone expected me to deal with it. “No problem,” I responded.
He learned to hate at an early age
everything green spooned onto his plate.
It repelled as if monsters
curled on the dish lying in wait
to inject their slimy poison.
To celebrate my birthday, I addressed a group of Global Scholars at Chattanooga State Community College on the societal trends in this 2016 politics through the lens of cultural anthropology. Chattanooga is experiencing major cultural shifts as globalization transforms the South’s demographics. We are very much in need of a new generation with global leadership skills, multicultural expertise, and political involvement.
Empathy can go a long way towards understanding how sensitive language diversity can be. For me it was years ago when I spoke to an audience of 190 German executives in Dusseldorf – in English, of course, but had nothing to say during dinner when everyone spoke German except me – or when I sat around the table in Amsterdam with 25 folks who adroitly moved from one language to another. Woefully deficient – not excluded – the proverbial “bump on the log,” is how I felt in those uncomfortable situations.
Hold my experience (and think through yours) as we turn now to today’s column.
Some call the political trend towards “Me & Us First” as the new nationalism. I prefer to apply the label ‘tribalism’. Regional preferences, current events and heavy political advertising, are not shaping public opinion as much as the identity of a specific community and the resonance of a leader to that community. Communities are built on religious and ethnic values, family preferences, housing patterns, and health habits. Their political choices will be shaped by those cultural traits along with the education and economics of the community. Teams and political parties become a complex mix of leadership styles and subtle signals from body language, word choice, and facial expressions to backgrounds and biographies. Policy positions and biographical details will be filtered through the diverse communities with predictably diverse results.
The debate over Black History Month is not new, but it intensified when this year’s Oscar nominees were all Caucasian. For the second year in a row, the Oscars earned the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. The Los Angeles Times noted that, “It’s another embarrassing Hollywood sequel … the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated an all-white group of acting nominees…The news again provoked an outcry and raised fresh questions over a familiar issue: whether an industry that prides itself on its progressiveness remains stubbornly stuck in the past.”
Have you ever entered a conversation with the best of intentions, only to end up in an argument? I suspect we have all had this experience and I’d like to suggest that one reason this happens so often is because of mind distance. When we try to communicate with people whose experiences and world views are very different from our own, we often run into invisible walls. It’s like trying to describe colors to a friend who has been blind from birth. No matter how much we try to explain what the world looks, sounds, and feels like to us, if the other person’s experiences have been significantly different, they will have trouble listening and understanding. In my work as an interculturalist, I encounter such mind distance on a regular basis.