By John Latta
These days there are ‘United We Stand’ signs everywhere. Bumper stickers. Lapel pins. Billboards. Those changeable signs outside churches. Cheeseburger wrappers. Underwear.
The idea that we are united as a country is immensely valuable. But the idea that we are all the same, or that we must all be the same, is worrying.
We are one from many, but the many still exist, they don’t completely dissolve into the mix. The discussion of our differences and consideration of other people’s points of view are parts of the glue that keep the mix together, and keep it both strong and flexible. Fact is it is our differences, and our ability to make one nation out of different people, that makes us what we are. We are not successful because each and every one of us thinks the same.
Lao Tzu, the founder of the Eastern world’s Taoism, is said to have been sitting in a forest when a hard snow fell. The cold old man noticed that the tree branches simply bent under its immense weight. If they were rigid, he saw, they would eventually break as the snow got to be too heavy.
Diversity is one of our strongest social glues and evidence of our elasticity. A little social glue here a little there and bingo we are a bendable but unbreakable whole. I remember a lot of years of uneasy use of aircraft and being reassured that the wings were suppose to bend and flex like that because if they didn’t they’d snap off when the plane bounced around. Same thing apparently applies to tall buildings and long bridges.
If we don’t accept and stay proud of our differences they may just fade away. If we try to rid ourselves of them the way someone works to lose an accent and sound like everyone else so they’ll fit in, who are we? America became the modern world’s great melting pot but we don’t fully melt. And besides, it’s a two-way process. A little of you melts into the pot and a little of someone else sticks to you. If zinc and copper didn’t melt together you wouldn’t have brass and there’d be no brass bands. Apples and pecans both make great pies, but an apple-pecan pie is also as American as apple pie.
But it’s not our differences by themselves that create social glue. It’s the way we relate to each other’s differences. It may be better to say that we are all distinct rather than we are all different. For the glue to hold there must be a social dialogue based on recognition, respect and understanding that what is distinct about you is important to all of us in the same way that what is distinct about me is important.
“General Washington, if you’re going to win this race you need to come up with a better explanation for the cherry tree thing than ‘I can not tell a lie’ because the poll people say that just won’t work.” Or: “Emancipation? Ooooh, I don’t know about that Mr. Lincoln, you might want to rethink because the ’65 election is just around the corner and the numbers don’t lie.”
Try to make us fit a single politically correct mold and pretty soon all that will be left are the cartoon characters advertising agencies use to identify different people, the people themselves having long since left the building. We’ll know we’re in the west only when we see a restaurant that boasts the ‘wildest, Westest tumbleweed stew this side of the Pecos, pardners,’ even thought its bulk made in New York City, frozen and shipped to Arizona. We’ll be in the south when we come across ‘Granny and Bubba’s Ol’ Fashioned Dixieland Eatin’ Place,’ but it’ll be a new franchise owned by a Seattle company using Chinese credit and the staff’s down home friendliness is simply a condition of employment. More power to truckers who say we are who we are. Period.
Not too long ago stern teacher-nuns would whack the left hand if students used it to write, and the Beach Boys wished that all girls could be California girls. Aren’t you glad the girls are still all different and some of them are left handed?