Our differences make the world go round.
Diversity is as natural as our planetary ecosystem.
A society’s attitude toward diversity is a pretty accurate indicator as to whether its citizens enjoy enough freedom to truly thrive. Our biological need to belong, however, often interferes with our personal freedom. From the shy individual content to stay in the background to the big talking, gunslinging, white man with a flag on his pickup, the need to belong limits not only their freedom but mine as well.
I’m convinced that most people don’t really want to be free.
Not really. What they really want is to belong. Freedom is a word that we throw around on a regular basis but don’t actually appreciate. If people really understood personal freedom, they’d also understand that a love of diversity is needed for freedom to take root and grow. I’m a firm believer that the more a society welcomes even honors diversity, the freer that society will be.
You simply can’t have one without the other.
Yet, most people have an overwhelming need to belong. They work hard to belong to their culture, a tribe, a club, a social group, a circle of friends, an organization, a religion. They struggle to identify with gender roles, patriotic commitment, social economic brackets, dress codes, schools, and universities. Much of what people do —buying cars, houses, having children, going on vacations —are influenced by advertisements, propaganda, and social pressure to be seen doing the right things in just the right way so as to belong to the right group.
If we refuse to question our culture’s expectations, we will never understand why some people feel trapped. Societies that limit an ever-widening scope of diversity are not free societies.
I often find myself wondering if a free society actually exists. Humanity may need to evolve further before we are able to appreciate a world of such amazing possiblities.
Cultural expectations are far more effective at controlling people’s behaviors than laws will ever be, because we often have no idea that we even had a choice in the first place. As soon as we were born, we were culturally indoctrinated to conform to a very narrow way of living our lives. Our parents, grandparents, teachers, preachers, priests, police officers, governments, movies, books, advertisements, propaganda, communities, neighborhoods and friends were intent on promoting the same message.
This is how you should be. There is no other way. Anyone who does it differently is weird.
There’s a steep fine to pay if we refuse to conform, however. Who will be our friends? Who will date us and marry us? Who will hire us for a job? Who will sit next to us in the cafeteria in middle school? Who will play with us on the playground? Some of those deemed too different will even be beat up or killed. It can be dangerous to be different, even slightly different.
The more demands our cultures make on us and the more laws put in place to produce a one dimensional society where everyone is the same, the less freedom we enjoy.
Yet, if one looks at nature, the ecosystem itself is extremely diverse. In fact, it’s this very diversity that makes life on this planet thrive. We need all of these different species to create opportunity. Our very lives depend upon diversity. If we look out our window, we will witness many, many lifeforms contributing their bit to this planet. No two living creatures exactly alike, making a beautifully diverse and highly productive world.
And, what about diversity of thought?
Is there value in encouraging our children to think differently, to question, to explore? So often anyone who has a new idea, different perspective, or an unusual interest is shunned. Their ideas scoffed at, even feared. Yet, the squelching of free thought robs us of solutions, sometimes solutions to problems that we’ve struggled with for centuries.
Free thought produces great inventions, fresh perspectives, solutions to problems, and keeps us from stagnating.
We should welcome diversity of thought, but we don’t. We tend to fight it, try to regulate it, and stand in the way of new ideas. Please let me clarify one thing. I don’t believe for one moment that America is the only country in the world that doesn’t value diversity.
I’ve traveled all over the world and I’ve yet to find a free country.
When I raised my children, I held the philosophy that as a parent, I needed to say yes more than no to them. No would be reserved for dangerous activities. Yes would be the norm in my house. Questions would be welcomed. Rules would be limited. Corporal punishment would be nonexistent. Reason would be used whenever possible. Responsibility would be taught through modeling good behaviors and discussing natural consequences. Freedom to pursue lots of interests would be granted. Creativity allowed, even honored.
Of course, I was too young and inexperienced to be a total success at this type of childrearing or any type of childrearing for that matter, but I tried my best.
After all, I’d grown up in a religious cult where everything a person did was scrutinized and often punished by a parent, and everything they thought scrutinized and punished by a god. I abandoned the culture I was raised in and from that day forward, I’ve been observing human beings.
The subculture I grew up in was not the only place where personal freedom and authenticity was denied. The boundaries may have changed when I entered mainstream America, but the rules were still the same.
You wanna belong to our club, then do what we do.
I’ve struggled against the tribe mentality my entire life. I see the benefits of a tribe but I also see the dangers. So far, I’m not convinced that the benefits outweigh the dangers. I’ve largely refused to belong to a tribe.
I wish freedom was possible.
I really do. But in spite of our technological advancements in the last 120 years, we’re as tribal as ever. It’s our tribalism that makes freedom a complicated state of affairs. Some people want freedom for themselves, but not others. Many don’t even know that they’re not free. Others are keenly aware that their differences often endanger their lives. Some have devoted their lives in the fight for personal freedom only to turn around and deny someone else their freedom.
Everyone seems uncomfortable to a greater or lesser degree with diversity, however.
We all still look, act, dress, behave the same. We think we want whatever our culture has told us we should want. Ideas are hated and ridiculed. Solutions are avoided even feared. Anything new and different is suspicious. And, most of all, we all worry about who will be our friend, date us, marry us, have sex with us, hire us, and sit at a cafeteria table with us in middle school.
Yet, FREEDOM is such a big bold American thang. Ain’t it? So big and bold that we like to think we’re the freest country in the world.
Come to America where if your skin is a different color, your language is different, your taste in music is different, your sexual preferences are different, your rituals and traditions are different, your religion is different, the way you dress is different, even the food you eat is different and we’ll love an accept you just the way you are.
Except we don’t. You know that and so do I. We divide ourselves into star bellied sneetches and those without stars upon thars and that’s that.
We like to think that we offer a dream world of opportunity, but deep down inside we’re still not comfortable with diversity. We can’t seem to understand the truth, that without diversity, freedom dies.
So, we settle for a culture where no one truly thrives, a barren existence that goes against nature.
We were gifted a diverse planet, but choose to destroy it. We thought we wanted freedom, but traded it for membership in a club. We think we can be free without diversity, but then keep wondering why we feel so trapped.
Will social evolution save the day?
Will we ever learn to accept, even revere a diverse culture? Will our children’s children thrive better than we have thus far? Or is this as good as it gets because instinctually our need to belong to the tribe overpowers are need to be free.
Inquiring minds want to know.
Teresa Roberts is a retired educator, author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.