|lawyer friend asked me if I had any thoughts about Diversity and Democracy. I went outside and sat in my garden, and looked over my rows of the healthiest potato crop I've ever had.|
|In between each potato plant is a stalk of garlic. In between the rows of potatoes are rows of beans and onions. As I walk my potato rows looking for potato beetles, what I see most is the beneficial ladybugs. This beautiful little gardener's helper thrives in a mixed environment.
I sat with my potatoes and pondered what this might mean to a lawyer. The wind was blowing pretty hard out of the northeast. I looked up in the clear blue sky and saw a big red-tailed hawk with his wings outstretched, circling lazily into the currents of cool air. A crow circled about six feet behind the hawk. There was a difference between the two birds. The hawk's wingspan allowed him to catch the wind and move forward into it. The crow is a large bird, but is only half the size of the hawk. While the hawk rode the wind, the crow had to constantly flap his wings and fight an uphill battle in his desire to chase the hawk from his territory.
Some of the ancient American Indian lore held that animals were symbols of ideas. To see a given animal was to see a message from the Great Spirit.
A hawk circling on the wind is a symbol of the big picture. The crow stands for law.
So the ancient wisdom would say that law is forever flapping its wings in an against-the-wind attempt to catch up with the big picture. And the big picture just floats gracefully on the invisible power above, always a few feet out of reach of the law.
If one takes the time to study the wisdom of Mother Nature, one can see how diversity works. The old-growth forest is a seemingly haphazard collection of many varieties of plants and critters. Every member of that society has a place and function which benefits the society. Old-growth forests are invariably healthy--that's why they live long enough to be called old-growth forests.
But man had a better idea. He began clear-cutting old-growth forests and replanting the acres in rows of pine trees. What man's wisdom didn't anticipate was the Pine Beetle. Up until that point, the little critter was relatively unknown. But when it was presented with thousands of acres of meals, the beetles flourished and grew into a tiny monster. And man looked out on his evergreen achievement to find the needles of the mightiest pines in his plot turning brown with death in the course of a season.
Diversity has become a popular topic in the last few years. People wax eloquent about the importance of diversity, but no one is really keen on having diversity happen to them. All of us reach a point where we say: "Why do things have to be this way? Where does diversity come from?"
We talk and talk about "achieving diversity" in society, but we never seem to get around to talking about the diversity within ourselves. How can society be balanced if those making up society are out of kilter with themselves?
Diversity begins inside of us. There are two halves to our brain. There are two halves to our heart. We have a right hand and a left hand, and sometimes they do not act together.
We see it in our families--what by rights should be the most commonly bound society of all is filled with differences brought about by the joining of the invisible differences inside the two parents. And the differences bring about strife and conflict, and one sibling rails against the other in an effort to achieve superiority. Each one believes his way to be the way of truth.
It is helpful to look at the original roots of the words we use so freely.
My lack of education allows me to do away with the educated man's rules of construction. This sets me free to look at words in a way the educated man might say is incorrect. And my way might be a little sideways, but it sometimes leads to a broader understanding.
The Latin roots for the word diverse have an interesting array of meanings.
One definition means "another, different."
Then there's one that means "spotted; striped; varying; changeable; and versatile."
Another says diversity means "in different directions; opposite; remote; diametrically opposed; hostile; unsettled; individuals; opposite side; opposite view."
The Latin roots of diversity describe difference and contradiction.
So if we say we are members of a diverse population, aren't we saying that we are different and versatile stripes running in different directions that sometimes oppose one another? And aren't we saying the stripes are sometimes remote and far apart, but they meet on the opposite side? And like the braids of a rope or the weavings of fabric, what appears to our close-up viewpoint appears from a distance to be strong and beautiful.
Taking the word apart even further, the Latin prefix "di-" means god or deity.
"Vers..." forms words that talk about various colors, about revolving and moving; about short lines of prose; about twisting and turning and rolling and bending; about disturbing and considering; and about living with and being involved and engaged with; about directions forward and backward; about dancing; about clever and smoothtalking, crafty, sly, and deceitful.
"Iter" is a noun describing a journey, passage, method, or road.
This sideways deconstruction gives the different stripes various colors, and has them undulating with life and thought which isn't always pretty and fair. My dirt-road version says the stripes are journeying together in their ramshackle way down a road paved with a divine nature towards a divine destination.
Is it possible to see diversity as something divine, when it causes us so much trouble? Perhaps the reason diversity causes us so much trouble is because we fail to see the divine inside of it.
My English dictionary says the prefix "demo" is from a Greek word meaning people, with democracy being a government by the people.
But in literal dirt-road Latin, the prefix "demo" means to take away from or subtract. This root forms words meaning to demolish and to divert. But it also turns into demonstrate, which means to point out clearly.
The syllable "crassus" is an adjective meaning dull and stupid.
The word "crater" means a mixing bowl.
The word "cratis" describes a rib of the body or a honeycomb.
So the dirt-road Latin construction of democracy becomes a honeycomb made of our ribs, where the stupid parts of us are pointed out clearly and taken away.
The Latin dictionary says that democracy's roots are "civitas popularis" and "liber populus." These words talk about people in a community or people that are free, open, unrestricted; unprejudiced; outspoken, frank; exempt and free of charge; and autonomous.
It is interesting to note that "civitas" is only two listings past "civiliter," which means as an ordinary citizen would do, i.e. politely.
So now the different colored stripes are running in different directions, but they are doing so politely and intelligently, perhaps because they acknowledge their kinship by virtue of their ribs forming a mixing bowl. The question is open as to what is being mixed, but if we add in the mention of the divine, then our population's undulating dance of a living journey reminds us of the circling hawk that our smaller crow-mindedness can't quite ever grasp.
The overly logical Western mind cannot quite get its arms around the idea that the mystery of diversity is a vehicle for our growth. We carve out our little notches of places we call our own.
The siblings have their bedrooms.
Communities have their neighborhoods and churches and clubs.
Towns have their sides of the tracks.
And we talk about diversity being just fine where it is, but we ain't sharing bedrooms with our brother, and we don't want a family like that moving in next door.
Diversity is nothing short of a mystery. What happens so easily in nature with no help from the brightest of men is completely baffling to each and every one of us.
The Chinese book of wisdom called the "I Ching" was in existence several hundred years before the birth of Christ. It speaks of conflict as the union of heaven and water. Heaven's attribute is The Creative. Water's attribute is The Abysmal. Heaven moves upward. Water moves down. The two halves move away from each other, giving rise to the idea of conflict.
The "I Ching" says conflict develops when one feels himself to be in the right and runs into opposition. And if one is not convinced of being in the right, then the opposition leads to craftiness but not to open conflict.
It further tells us that if a man is entangled in a conflict, his only salvation lies in being so clear-headed and inwardly strong that he is always ready to come to terms by meeting the opponent halfway. To carry on the conflict to the bitter end has evil effects even when one is in the right, because the enmity is then perpetuated. Conflict within weakens the power to conquer danger without.
The "I Ching" advises that the superior man carefully considers the beginning of all activities. And if one is dealing with a group, then it pays to make sure that the spiritual trends of the individuals are in harmony, so that the cause of conflict is removed in advance.
It is too late for us to consider the beginning of anything except the rest of our time after today. The nature of democracy itself presents major challenges to having anything to do with the diversity of spiritual trends of its people.
On the other hand, if we consider the basic question of death, we can find a common spiritual thread. We may not agree on what happens to us after our death, but we can certainly agree that we do not know. And any of us who have lost a loved one can testify that diversity within a family can become a majestic picture under the right circumstances. Tragedies in communities cause the different stripes to bind together for the good of the whole fabric.
It reminds me of how the old folks sometimes say we need a good war or Great Depression to bring us all together.
Isn't it a shame we can't simply do it willingly?
The "I Ching" winds up its discourse on conflict by talking about the man who has carried on a conflict to the bitter end and has ultimately triumphed. He is granted a decoration, but his happiness does not last. He is attacked again and again, and the result for the man who considered himself a victor is conflict without end.
As I understand it, the American system of law was based in part upon Mr. Blackstone's Commentaries on English Common Law.
Now, some of the younger folks I've talked to think Blackstone is the stuff they use to pave country roads. But some of the oldtimers remember hearing about Blackstone.
As I read Mr. Blackstone's take on things, English Common Law was based on what was known as "Natural Law." Without saying whether this basis was right or wrong, let us assume for a moment that this was how they viewed things at that time.
My further understanding of English Common Law is that it was based on the Ten Commandments. This means that the American system of law is based on a set of rules handed down for a group of people who were didn't know they were about to wander in the desert for 40 years.
Certainly there was diversity in that group, just as there is diversity in our families today.
But they had a motivation that the Chinese would call a "spiritual trend." Their motivation was surviving until tomorrow. They were lost. They were often hungry. They had no idea what was to become of themselves, other than unprovable dreams and visions handed down from an invisible source they called God.
There are some who say that our modern world has strayed a long ways from the Ten Commandments. I'm not writing to debate that, but to ask: is it still wrong to kill, steal, or to do wrong by other people? Are the basics of today that far removed from what they've always been? Does diversity have anything to do with the basic notions of right and wrong?
And then I wonder: if we complain about the other stripes in the fabric, how come we always harm the stripes belonging to ourselves?
The crow chases the hawk, and the hawk keeps circling out of reach.
The Law seems to be a logical process of rules which attempt to anticipate the twists and turns of the Big Picture it follows. By them time the rules apply to the Big Picture as it was, the Big Picture as it is has changed.
Can we acknowledge Democracy's idea of majority rule while allowing for the Diversity's Dancing Otherness? One almost has to think the puzzle won't fit together.
It seems popular to talk about Diversity as if it is an end unto itself. But anyone can look at a group who has set themselves apart as being different and see that after awhile they are no longer different, but have become alike. Their difference is imagined as they find themselves fitting into a world beyond the control of one group or another.
An interesting thing to ponder is the word Holy. It means separate and apart, and different from the rest. Perhaps if we began to see Diversity as Holy, then we would begin to see Diversity as something besides an end. We would begin to see it as a means, as a method, as a journey, as a dance.
Then perhaps Democracy would begin to be more than a word describing a gaggle of people who don't get along any better than required. Democracy is also a means.
If Diversity and Democracy are both means to an end, then one wonders what the end might be.
This brings us back to the idea of the mixing bowl made of our ribs being joined together. As we stand side to side in all of our different-colored-opposite-running-stripeness, we can either look back and complain, look ahead and fear, or look in front of our faces into the mixing bowl that we form together.
The people who were given the Ten Commandments felt like man was ultimately nothing more than dust. And that dust will follow an irreversible law which is beyond the power of appeal.
The Chinese would say there's a spiritual trend in there somewhere.
The crow never catches up with the hawk.
©Copyright 2004 David Clark, P.O. Box 148/Cochran, GA 31014