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Diversity and its malcontents

Caricature of SteveDiversity sounds good. But it too often engenders controversy whether proposed either for businesses in the private sector, government or on college campuses.

The theory works this way. If you bring into your circle people of different cultures and experiences, their ideas will expand your own thinking and contribute unique perspectives beyond your traditional view and opinion.

If true, this contribution is extremely valuable as we confront the serious problems of race, poverty and equality in our business and government policies. News organizations also benefit from the concerns that an expanded, diverse editorial staff brings to choosing news stories.

But the malcontents. They are either ones who opposed different persons and ideas. Or worse, those who misinterpret diversity to mean imposition rather than contribution.

Example: I love languages. I have gained fluency in three and used them in journalism training around the world. Speaking the language of your host audience eliminates the delay and distance of using interpreters. I want to converse in the language of the host nation.

Likewise, when back home I speak English. And I expect everyone else to do the same—even bilingual and polyglot residents.

I think of America as a bicycle wheel. The center hub is the core of America—where everyone who lives here shares the same basic values and beliefs enumerated in the Constitution.

Among these are an adherence to a society of laws, protection of speech and expression, right to security and wellbeing and a commitment to equality and opportunity for everyone.

Stretching from the hub in 360 degrees is a series of spokes extending to the outer rim of the wheel. Here are our different communities. We live in discreet cities, towns and neighborhoods often segregated by race, culture, economics and education. In our homes we are free to speak, believe and behave as we see fit as long as no laws are broken. That is how it should be.

But as we travel from the privacy of our homes to the public venues of the hub, we are expected to modify the intensity of our individualism and conform to the general values of the larger society. That is, we leave the unique artifacts of ourselves at home and adopt the expectations of what is to be an American.

When values collide: Canada is embroiled in a cultural conflict. The province of French-speaking Quebec has made it illegal to cover your face in public venues.

This means no person either working in a government office or seeking public services can mask their face.

Common sense tells us that no one wants to see someone entering a bank wearing a ski mask or balaclava.  Likewise, even flu masks might cause some concern among bank tellers and depositors.

But the law has quickly engendered anger and protests among residents who claim the law discriminates against Muslim women who venture into public wearing niqabs and burkas. Also, what constitutes public venues?

Although I support religious freedom, concern over public safety and security trumps religious expression.

Yes, women who want to drive cars do not have the right to cover their faces when being photographed for an auto license. The same is true if a photo id is required for voting.   Such Muslims are free to have a family member or friend drive for them or vote by absentee ballot.

Other interpretations of the law may be less clear. But the larger issue is that when the government and society have clearly articulated and compelling reasons for policy decisions. Personal freedoms—in society’s hub—should be secondary. Individuals should not expect unique treatment or exceptions at the expense of the larger national community.

However, such individual freedoms should remain sacrosanct in one’s private sphere on the rim of the nation.

There is freedom enough for all.


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