I try to keep this blog free from contemporary influences, preferring to concentrate on those which are timeless. But there is so much attention given to diversity now–and by process of elimination to its opposite: uniformity*–that I thought I’d wade in a little deeper than I did in my first post.
Now there are many different adjectives we can apply to ourselves, but for purposes of “diversity” only two really matter, those which are immediately apparent: race (or nationality) and gender. These are characteristics we are born with, and over which we really have no choice.** There are of course other adjectives of religion, sexual orientation, political affiliations, etc. (Age enters into it also, but the consequences are less well defined.) So in these terms I will identify myself as a straight white male (and I realize that for many that disqualifies me from having any opinion on this subject). For the society as a whole, those three adjectives are superfluous–I am the norm. And they are certainly barriers to any kind of self-examination. We are trained to see only differences, and those differences are what provoke the question “What am I?” Seeing only uniformity does not lead to self-examination. Many people might think of being a straight white male as winning the lottery, but if your goal is self-realization, it’s a loser. It may seem to be a blessing from a societal point of view, but in terms of a spiritual quest, it’s a disaster. The sense of being different that occurs to young children can be the start of a lifetime of self-examination. Unfortunately, it usually stops with the most obvious adjectives.
So if you are not a straight white male, if you are an oppressed minority (a term that’s really redundant), what do you do? Well, if you’re like most people, you also take your adjectives–gay/trans, black/brown/yellow/red, female–to be nouns. They are what you are. You start from a place of suffering, of anger, you band with others of the same adjective, and take actions to increase your power, your share of the country’s big apple pie.
And it may well work–you may get the part, the contract, the job, the respect, the gig–hey, you may even become president! And I don’t mean to belittle the suffering and hard work of those oppressed who have struggled to overcome the conscious and unconscious barriers that the rulers have put in their way. But still, in terms of self-realization, of remembering that you are a noun, this too can be a disaster. Each “victory” becomes just another way to perpetuate the illusion that those adjectives are what you “are.” At some point we all have to turn in our body/mind/heart apparatus, and how difficult that will be depends on how attached we are to it. (It does seem to me that the older one gets, the less one holds on to this attachment.)
We all need to look more deeply within and realize that we are something universal. We are not just the accidents of our birth, or products of the epithets that have become attached to us, like polytropos Odysseus or constant Penelope. We are not just beautiful, we are Beauty; not just loving, but Love; not just individuals, but the One.
A closing thought from Maya Angelou: “All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.”¹
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*The coded subtext to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is “Make America White Again.”
**Of course you could claim, as does Plato in Book 10 of The Republic, that we choose our lives on earth, and part of that would be the body/mind/heart apparatus that goes along with it. That is a very interesting and relevant question, but since we don’t really have a way to verify it, I’ll leave it to one side for time being.
¹Letter to My Daughter, 2009.