Oct 24, 2010

EDITORIAL: Why Diversity is Important (in our neighborhoods, in our society)

Allan Snyder's research illustrates how our left and right brain each hold conflicting signals that fight each other. But when the dominant hemisphere is muted, an elegant simplicity emerges from the opposite side. Similarly, when we give the diverse elements in our communities voice, we strengthen our neighborhoods in surprising, unexpected ways.

Some of the rich cultural elements that created New Orleans' unique sense of "place," were never built to code or built before there was a building code. But this nonconformity with today's standards is what defined New Orleans' charm.
It was possible to sustain the unique culture of New Orleans because housing costs were minimal, liberating people from debt. One did not have to work a great deal to get by. There was the possibility of leisure. There was time to create the fabulously complex Creole dishes that simmer forever; there was time to practice music, to play it live rather than from recordings, and to listen to it. There was time to make costumes and to parade; there was time to party and to tell stories; there was time to spend all day marking the passing of friends. One way to leisure time is to have a low financial carry. With a little work, a little help from the government, and a little help from family and friends, life could be good! This is a typically Caribbean social contract: not one to be understood as laziness or poverty—but as a way of life.(Metropolis Magazine 2/14/07 "Restoring the Real New Orleans" by Andres Duany)

Another example: Temple Grandin: a high functioning autistic woman who "thinks" the way animals do. Her research and input has helped create more humane treatment conditions for putting down cattle in slaughterhouses.

Diversity gives us the opportunity to use our collective intelligence (> sum of our parts), as each of us contains a part of the solution. Diversity create opportunities to tinker, to try new things, to fail and fail repeatedly, until one of us stumbles upon the aha! part of the solution. Without those opportunities as step stones between failure and the will-to-succeed, we risk abandoning the solution, stillborn. And we risk living in a community of stubborn children huddled in the thick part of the bell curve. 

Even our own brain contains competing impulses from the left and right hemispheres. Difference of opinion is healthy. Without Diversity, we corrupt our own cause and ultimately, forfeit opportunity.