How to lose friends and aggravate people

Harry Drabik

You’d think life on the beautiful North Shore would be low in tension and grief. But if you make the move of putting a little blip in the local paper (formerly called the fish wrapper because when you’d buy fish from a commercial fisherman it would be wrapped in old newspaper) you’ll see otherwise. Not that I’m a shy type who stays clear of debate. Some of my teachers would beg me to please shut up. I think that meant I often didn’t know when I’d won.

In any case I said something about not everything sometimes touted as diversity is either diverse or worth special regard. You’d think I’d denounced motherhood or defiled a site natural or native. People (myself included) don’t like having their categories challenged, and the diversity mantra is one many believe requires all to genuflect before it. But there is no reason I can find to bow before a dangerously loose concept no matter how ardent its believers or how correct it is assumed to be.

Instead of accepting a supposed value in diversity I’d look to actual behavior. For quite some time diverse cultures and groups have come to the US. In the past as happens in the present, these groups will often clump together to form ethnic neighborhoods or communities. That’s not diversity. My father had stories of what happened to him as a Polack kid crossing into an Irish or German neighborhood. The result was not a diversity fest. Social mingling of groups (for example in marriage) was strongly discouraged.

When I was a kid in Chicago there were distinct ethnic neighborhoods. Mother would drag me along to the Italian Market or Kosher Poultry. She was treated OK, but not as warmly or as openly as those places would respond to those they saw as “their own.” We did not experience similar friendliness until in Coco’s Meat Market run by Lithuanians. So long as people identify by group there will be a considerable amount of division.

What we might call “diversity” only came along as a force or reality after the walls of ethnic or faith identity were lowered and in some cases erased to the point where interfaith and intermarriage came more into play. In other words it is a useless and possibly even harmful thing to laud as diverse groups and beliefs that deliberately keep apart. So, there’s a kind of diversity that is cooperative and erases lines and there is another form that is divisive and separatist. The difference is very important to the working of society because in the one form there is cohesion and building while in the other group identity is seen as the greater good.

I know, people will say that was then and this is now as an argument that clearly distinct ethnic or belief group identities make us stronger. You’ll hear that, but I doubt it is anywhere near true as claimed. Indeed, it might be the opposite. To see, set aside past history and large groups. Imagine a single apartment complex with clearly differentiated ethnic or belief groups. Say for pretend purposes that in the building there’s one group that always wears yellow and will not speak to outsiders. Is that diversity or is it division? Say that the yellow wearers will speak to outsiders, but primarily to educate them on how good it is to be a yellow wearer. If you think that not wearing yellow isn’t a form of social ostracism you should think again. The yellow wearers do not have to say you are an unclean and unworthy specimen. Their behavior and identity keeping do that job. As outward signs identifiable group dress or grooming can be good as any attitude or declaration to state social separation often meaning not only different but superior. How diverse do you think it is when others go out of their way to act or dress in ways that mark others as inferior outsiders?

A thing I like to keep in mind is the old but useful reminder that words are cheap. Not only are words cheap, we can go on and on with very little to support those words. The understanding or info might lie behind the screen of words. Take this question, one I use fairly often. “What’s the difference between real and fake sincerity?” In word or expression we can’t really make out much difference between them. From savvy lips fake sincerity might even come across as more convincing than real McCoy. Words are cheap. But the following example might be some use. Say you break an arm and two people express sympathy and concern. They each sound sincere. The expressions, nice sounding as they may be, are but cheap words anyone can say at no cost and with no proof. There is not much value in the words. But there sure as hell is value and meaning and substance if one of the sympathizers comes unasked to shovel your walk because they know with a broken arm you can’t manage it. The act show real sincerity.

A result is another form of act, so if the result of something is not what words have claimed then the words are shown empty or reduced in value. If the result of something is an increase of tension or in division then it’s maybe not as constructive and community building as claimed. We all (I know I do) like to believe in nice things, but whatever the sweet idea is it needs to be looked at for what it actually does rather than what we want from it or were told it really does. The thing to remember is ask questions of things, especially what you believe to be true. And, don’t be fooled by fake reasoning. Someone says you’re more likely to be hit by lightning than experience a terror attack. True, but lightning does not select victims based on color or faith. That’s kind of an important difference, isn’t it?