James Surowiecki, in his book The Wisdom of Crowds, points out that a group has a larger intelligence than an individual: “If you can assemble a diverse group of people who possess varying degrees of knowledge and insight, you’re better off entrusting it with major decisions, rather than leaving them in the hands of one or two people, no matter how smart those people are.” Or to put it succinctly, William F. Buckley Jr. once said that he would rather be governed by the first 100 names in the Boston phone directory than by the entire faculty of Harvard University (some of my best friends, best congregants are Harvard faculty – nothing against y’all).
However, something that I see in New England, particularly in my neck of the woods, is a serious lack of diversity. An African American friend of mine, a Latino friend of mine and I went out for coffee in Marblehead a while back. As we were sitting there I noticed the looks and began to feel like a U.N. delegation. I looked around and realized that we were the only eclectic group in the bunch. Heck, we were probably the only one in the city at that moment. If I don’t work at it, and I try really hard, I’ll be surrounded by an extremely homogeneous community. The group is lovely, don’t get me wrong. They are my neighbors, my congregants, my people and my tribe. However, there are times when I know that my view is skewed and my path is diverging simply due to a lack of exposure to the great big wide world out there with all of its pathways, all of its places and all of its people – not just my little slice of the pie.
A good friend of mine (an African drummer) has changed my world, exposing me to tribal drum and chant. Another friend who is a Buddhist yoga instructor has enlightened me to mindfulness and prayer through body movement. A close confidant of mine is an Evangelical Christian who, by his example, has taught me how to pray. There’s my good buddy who is a “devout” Atheist and has challenged me to examine holes in my theology, and yet another friend, a native to Boston, blue collar and salt of the earth (one of those phone book names Buckley was referring to) who has shown me that money is not what is important. He has no formal education and yet is perhaps the finest father and husband I’ve ever met. He’s taught me how to be a better man and the only flaw I can see in him is his inability to speak English (there are times when I do believe that Boston English is really not English).
Same nationality, same ethnicity, same religion, same politics, same beliefs, same look (take a look at Jr. High School kids – they all look identical)….if we expend no energy this is what happens, homeostasis will set in. Sooner or later we’ll find ourselves surrounded by an ever shrinking, homogenous, community and clique. You have to work for diversity. You have to strive towards that which is foreign. You have to make room for differences; open your heart to others and in so doing you will remember they are not “other,” rather they are brothers and sisters, teachers, confidants and soul mates. So re-examine your surroundings, re-think your inner circle and shake things up if you to diversify your life.