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Diversity as conflict

Jan 24, 2013 - By Betty Starks Case

I'm a lifetime student, and the lessons never end

Winter (and flu) provide quiet times for us to look into ourselves, to read others' views, maybe even find potential wisdom there. Here are some ideas I'm considering while staying home trying to escape the flu:

A cartoon posted above my computer shows a boy about age 6 reading to his little brother. The older boy says, "I can explain it to you, Joey, but the understandin' part is up to you."

The line is amusing. But doesn't it speak a subtle truth?

Serious or humor, the job of a columnist is to present and explain her/his view of a subject. It may involve an idea, online checking for accuracy, and/or notes from newspapers, magazines or other sources that challenge thinking.

The "understandin' part" can and sometimes does come out quite differently.

One reader sees my columns this way: "You take mundane subjects and lift them out of the ordinary."

Thanks, Bill. You gave me insight into my own creativity. And challenge. Your reminder, also, is posted above my computer.

Actor Clint Eastwood, seeing human response from another angle, declares, "The less secure a man is, the more likely he is to have prejudice toward others."

Sounds a bit harsh. But life's experiences shape us, along with the choices we make.

By now, it seems our creator must really be struggling to keep this old world in balance.

So why must diversity of thought become a source of conflict instead of the human strength it could be if we searched for the best in all our thinking?

I decided to ask a few more people their views. (We don't really want to be clones, do we, a flat-line uninteresting species, going nowhere?)

"Education's purpose," according to magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes, "is to replace an empty mind with an open one."

No mind is totally empty, Mr. Forbes. Can we just replace an empty mind with a closed one and then try to open it?

In his book "The Discoverers," author Daniel Boorstin observes, "The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the Earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge."

Oh my. That's a big one. Shall we think on it awhile? Seriously?

Frank A. Clark, a cartoonist who presented weighty subjects in gentle cartoons noted, "We find comfort among those who agree with us -- growth among those who don't."

Along with the opportunity offered here, I'm remembering the 1971 movie "Brian's Song" based on the true story of a young African-American Chicago Bears football player, Gale Sayers, and his close friend, Brian Piccolo, who was Caucasian.

The two were extreme opposites, not only in skin color, but in personality -- Brian an extrovert, Gale quiet and shy. Yet those very differences drew them, almost magnetically, to a rare friendship.

Even as they vied for the same position on the football field, each continually worked to help the other improve.

The young white football player died of lung cancer at the age of 26, with his hand clasped tightly in that of his black friend.

The movie reminds me: If no two of us are created exactly alike, why do we let human contrasts cause so much conflict? It doesn't seem to matter if the variation is skin color, territory, religion, guns, politics, or a hundred other things. We divorce, insult, fight and shoot each other over our diversity.

And yet, what if there were no contrast? Could we sense joy if we hadn't known sorrow? Appreciate food if we hadn't felt hunger? Would spring be so welcome if we hadn't shivered through winter? How about good health after a miserable bout with the flu?

Might reasoned disagreement and debate offer a chance to stretch our thinking?

Were we never taught that was possible? Or might we feel threatened by a view other than our own?

Author Paulo Coelho offers a closing thought for us all, "It's one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it's another to think that yours is the only path."

This column is filled with questions. And many varied answers.

I'm happy to be a lifetime student.

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