Our “strength in diversity” month is coming to a close–and what a strange, challenging month it has been. The temptation is always before us, to retreat back into our own short-focused tribes, build up the barricades, and glare out from behind them with suspicion.
But as Maya Angelou and Nate Williams remind us in today’s image, there’s another, better way to look at the world. As long as we fail to see and value the tapestry, we’ll keep unraveling.
You may have noticed (If so, bless you!) that I didn’t post much on my blog last week. What’s up with that? Massive stuff going on in my life, that’s what.
I very recently finished a full draft of a science fiction novel.
This is the fifth novel manuscript for which I’ve been able to write “The End” in my adult life. The working title of the current opus is Going to the XK9s.
XK9s are forensic olfaction specialists, (dogs) whose universe-class noses make them something of a forensic analysis lab on four legs, and whose genetically-modified verbal-logic enhancements have pushed them over “the line” (wherever that lies, exactly) into sapience.
My protagonist is Rex, the “Leader of the Pack.” The other POV characters are his opinionated mate Shady and his somewhat beleaguered human partner Charlie.
My logline (still a work in progress) reads: A genetically-engineered police dog must innovate crime-solving approaches on a major case to prove his Pack is sapient and deserves freedom, before enemies—both from the Project that created them and from the criminal underworld—can destroy them.
I’ve mentioned “the novel” in past posts, most notably in the Space Station DIY series (an outgrowth of my research, since a large space station is the primary setting for the novel).
The XK9s were inspired by recent scientific explorations of dog cognition, recent discoveries of dogs’ ability to sense medical conditions by scent, and canine capabilities in search and rescue, drug enforcement, and bomb detection.
Since I travel in science fiction circles, I meet a lot of people who are “working on a novel.” People who actually have finished one are rarer, but simply finishing a draft doesn’t mean it’s done.
Very few people “take dictation from God” on the very first draft, most certainly including me. Once the novel is “finished,” the editing begins. In my case that means hacking through thickets of luxuriant verbiage to focus, polish, and pare it down to a streamlined, more readable length.
After that, professionals will review it. And after that . . . Oh, my. Publishing has changed almost beyond recognition since I worked with agents and editors in the 1980s. Lots of large learning curves ahead!
But meanwhile, it’s time to celebrate a nice milestone.
I ran across this quote in a column by Michael Gerson, who quoted one of my favorite modern philosophers:
Our country–indeed, our world–seems riven by factions, divided into mutually hostile camps. Yet I dare to hope that many of us retain enough of our grip on reality to remember this.
Amongst all the shouting and all the fear-mongering, please hold tight to this idea. We are all inescapably “tied in a single garment of destiny”–and thus “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”
Humanity becomes inhumanity when we turn on each other. Let’s not, okay?
IMAGE: Many thanks to Sendable Quotes for this image. And even more thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for saying it in the first place.
My vision of Strength in Diversity has everything to do with people from different cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, and life experiences coming together to pool their collective wisdom.
That is, in fact, also the essence of creativity: drawing ideas from a range of sources and putting them together in new ways. Only through that process can we innovate, develop our potential and make progress toward a better world.
This attitude does not mean I’m a pie-in-the-sky idealist who just wants to sing Kum By Yah with everyone else in the world because of the overflowing goodness in my heart.
And I don’t espouse my ardent belief in the vital importance of social justice out of some ambition to be politically correct.
No, my primary reason for affirming the importance of a diverse and interconnected society is that I firmly believe it’s my nation’s best route to a strong, positive future. It will take the intelligence, and the fortitude, and the creativity of ALL of us, to get ALL of us out of the messes we’ve made.
As allies, not enemies, we need to think independently together.
Today I’d like to share my little platform with a guy whose Internet identity is “Mike the Cop.” He’s part of the Humanizing the Badge organization, which is doing its part to share a perspective on law enforcement officers that we don’t always get from the media.
If we’re genuinely interested in exploring the extent of our diversity, then this is ALSO a minority who should be heard from. So if you’re willing to listen, Mike has some concise, true and important things to say about “Good Cops.”
Anyone who reads my blog from time to time will likely have noted that I am interested in, and largely sympathetic toward, law enforcement. Yet another dominant theme for me is social justice Indeed, on July 2nd, I announced that my theme for the quotes and images of this month would focus on diversity as a major strength of my homeland, the United States of America.
I chose it because the ugly rise in open racism that I have seen in recent years troubles me deeply, and I believe the most patriotic thing I can do is oppose that trend. I’m not the only one in my country who feels torn by seemingly competing loyalties, or betrayed by the oversimplifications it’s too easy to fall into.
If I am supportive of the police, am I automatically unsympathetic to the minority communities that have so often been targeted, or oblivious to the seemingly-endless cases of unarmed black men (and boys) killed by police?
If I affirm that the protesters often have an all-too-valid point, am I undermining the authority and values of law enforcement, or denying the value of the rule of law?
No. I want a third way. I want a way where everyone’s intrinsic value is affirmed: where ALL neighborhoods have access to good food, good education, health care, and job opportunities, and where the presence of the police is honestly welcomed.
As President Obama said in Dallas, we must keep our hearts open to our fellow Americans. “With an open heart, we can abandon the overheated rhetoric and the oversimplification that reduces whole categories of our fellow Americans not just [to] opponents, but to enemies.”
I pray he was right when he said, “I believe our righteous anger can be transformed into more justice and more peace.” But it won’t happen if we stay back in our bitter, angry corners and refuse to see each other’s humanity. Each one of us has a responsibility to step up: to do all we can to make that vision a reality in our world.
IMAGE: Many thanks to Quartz, for the photo of the protester with the cops.
I’m not sure he gave as much thought to the poor of the United States when he addressed “those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery.” But we had our own share of huts, villages, and the urban equivalent when he addressed the nation that day.
Kennedy didn’t need to look beyond our own shores for people “struggling to break the bonds of misery.” This Appalachian man’s rural Kentucky community had lost most of its jobs by the time John Dominis took this photo in 1964.
Urban poverty in Harlem, New York: the Fontenelle Family, outside their home in 1967, as photographed by the legendary Gordon Parks.
When you speak stirring words, people everywhere may challenge you to live up to them. What we now know as the Civil Rights Movement and the Feminist Movement already had begun to stir before this speech, but they grew in impetus during the decade that followed this speech.
Unfortunately, the work of neither movement is anywhere near being finished yet.
Later in his speech Kennedy proclaimed “a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself,” and at the end he challenged his countrymen to “ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.”
Long-term poverty persists in Appalachia, despite 50 years having passed since the “War on Poverty” was declared in 1964 (in another Inaugural Address, this one from Lyndon B. Johnson).
I would submit to you that the work Kennedy laid out for us is as much needed as ever, and nowhere near finished. Not even right here in our own back yards.
Not as much has changed on those fronts since 1960 as we’d like to wish, and while the problems grew worse for many in 2008, they have been far more deeply entrenched, for far longer. There’s never yet been a golden era when poverty was eradicated for everyone.
And it seems to me that a greater sense of civic duty among all of us, directed at making our communities safer and more healthy for ALL of us, would go a long way toward preparing us for our country’s greatness in the future.
Liberty for all is an ideal, a goal–but never a destination. We can never stop and say, “okay, that’s done.” Now: do I mean to say that freedom from poverty equals liberty? No, not at all. But it’s only when people find ways to ease the desperate burden of poverty that they can begin to find ways to live up to their truest potential and be their best selves. Once they can do that, they can begin to participate in the joys of liberty.Without those base-line necessities, the rights, privileges and duties of liberty can seem a distant, impossible dream.