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  • Writer's pictureKevin Graham

Destroy the mirrors!

All of my choices are, in some measure, a sum of history, not just my history, but of all history. Every moment I spend staring at myself in the mirror, looking for answers, is time lost to the search through history for a better idea. Most of my decisions should be no more than a residual of so many other events, most of which occurred far apart from my personal experience, and long before I was born. In the absence of intellectual curiosity as to lessons from history, I am doomed to bad choices. To even consider that I may be capable of making decisions in narcissistic isolation from my own history, let alone that of my forebearers, or in isolation from the diverse history of those affected by my decisions, or that of their forebearers, is naïve. Everything I think and do, every thing I do without thinking, is a function of an incalculable number of decisions and events gone before. Arguably, my perceptions, my interpretations, my reactions are all part of a complex and diverse configuration, created and re-created over millennia. What I bring to the table may be little more than my free will, and then, only sometimes. “Horse hockey!” you say. All of history is far too imposing to take into account when I’m just trying to decide whether to flush the toilet with my left hand or my right. This is true, but… consider that all of what is known or unknown… all of what is instinctual reflex or learned habit… all of what is relevant to my decision or not… all of these reside on continua. They are not ‘on/off’ switches as some contend. My point is not that every choice we make should reflect in-depth consideration of the complete diversity of human experience. There’s no time for that. Rather, at least some of the decisions we make… some of the things we say… some of the things we do… and, for certain, some of the things we tweet… should involve more than the level of complexity required to select the hand with which we flush a toilet. In decisions of consequence, I would hope that I can look away from the mirror long enough to consider both history passed and the history I will create with my decisions. My task, informed by history and empowered by its diversity, is to select appropriate points of complexity along intersecting continua so that I can, at least some of the time, make informed and successful decisions. As appealing as it may be to simplify the world in aid of decision-making, the curve of simplification often displays a sharply negative return. From Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Derived from history, diversity is a very messy thing… and not even close to simple. When we say the very word, it means different things to different people, depending each on their own experience, their own place and time in history. It means race and culture. It means religion. It means gender and sexuality. It means age. It means economics. It means nationality. It means regionality. It means which side of the street we live on. It means what we look for and how we see and hear and feel and think and learn. Decision-making on behalf of a diverse group implies some sharing of objectives. It also implies at least some sharing of values. Already, this implication puts us well off the track to simple decisions. Our challenge here is in defining the breadth of these shared objectives and values. With wider breadth, decisions are diverse, collaborative, and sensitive to minority positions within the affected group. With narrow breadth, decisions are unilateral, easy, and at risk of alienating, marginalizing, even trampling those in the minority. I would contend that, where our society is most successful, its identity is without fixed definition. Clarity is convenient, and very powerful in the mobilization of public opinion. In my view, however, identity is best defined by a lack of definition at the edges, leaving us open to improvement when a better idea comes along. The inherent irony in this makes for very interesting choreography as we stumble through amendments in our identity. Diversity, as a key component of this exercise, is not only to be tolerated. Diversity, reflecting rich history, is challenging, but it is not our enemy. Rather, we are well served by viewing diversity as a tremendous source of strength and talent as we strive toward peaceful and productive co-existence and toward authentic fairness and balance in a dynamic society. Just as shared objectives and values must play a role… within marriage and family, in dealings with neighbours, in business, and on the playing field… our successes are greater by way of diversity, not in spite of it. So it is for us as individuals. So it is for broader society and for our particular society’s role in a shrinking world of increasingly diverse objectives and values. Our greatest successes, then, are derived not from turf wars between competing objectives and values, but rather from our capacity to balance and focus a diverse collection of objectives and values on common interest in pursuit of the greater good. Here’s where it gets complicated. In this world of increasing diversity and complexity, we are at every turn pressed to simplify. Ten-second soundbites… breaking news (which, if it happened more than 90 minutes ago, is not breaking news)… Twitter… non-existing attention span… the clock… all of these leave us unable or unwilling to take the time or make the effort to cope with the nuance of diversity. Here’s where it really gets complicated. The narrative of politics today is entirely lacking in complexity. At the heart, it remains as complex as ever, but on the face, polarizing politicians capture audience by way of tweeting simple soundbite labels that appear oblivious to the diverse and nuanced lessons of history. Right and wrong. Us and them. Patriotic and unpatriotic. From Samuel Johnson: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Simple is as simple does. Shrouded in the functionality of a false zero-sum game (and it is false – the pie can get bigger), the complexity of society is all but lost in this unending drama of simple labels. With every issue reduced to binary code, there is no room at all for diversity. Draw the lines. Build the walls. Promote fear and hatred of ‘the other’ and play to the base emotional instincts of the disenfranchised. Keep it simple. All of this makes for such great unrealized potential. On the face, diversity doesn’t seem to have a chance… and yet diversity will point to the only way out. Acceptance and celebration of diversity will be our only path to peace and prosperity. Our economy, our world economy, our society, our global village… these notions, and many others, are flying very quickly toward a meeting place entirely lacking in clear definition. History marches on and this march to diversity will not stop. Borders are now, in many respects, no more than quaint dotted lines. This is our new reality. People who travel the world know this and celebrate the rich experience that comes of it. Businesses know this, drawing for their very survival on diversity from every corner of the world. Too often, the prevailing narrative, including my own, lags far behind this march of history, paralyzed over the bathroom sink, standing and staring, looking inward for the answers. Destroy the mirrors, I say, and look out. With respect,

Kevin Graham

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