Thursday, October 22, 2015

Strength of Diversity

I recently heard an interview with the head of the Peace Corps on NPR.  The focus of the discussion was the newly revamped application process.  As detailed by Hessler-Radelet, the new director, the application itself was found to be one of a number of obstacles to those seeking to volunteer for the Peace Corps.  By trimming it down from a process that could take many hours, along with offering the applicant an opportunity to select the country he/she wished to serve, applications to the Peace Corps had reached an all-time high last year.  Yes, for those of you who have determined that today's young adults are lazy, self-centered, etc, even more of them have applied to the Peace Corps than in the years after its formation, the 1960's, when idealism was purportedly at an all time high.

But that is not what struck me about the interview.  What inspired this post was Hessler-Radelet's statement that the process of selecting peace corps volunteers had also been tweaked to guarantee more diversity among the volunteers.  Traditionally, recruitment and selection had created an almost all-white corps.  As time passed, this focus became an obstacle to providing this wonderful opportunity for service and travel to minorities.  It wasn't that minorities were not qualified, it was more that they were not recruited, whether that be on minority college campuses or inner city high schools.  Additionally, an all white corps belied the actual diversity of young adults in America, presenting those who benefitted from the corps' work the perception that either there were no minorities in America, or worse, that those who were non-white did not volunteer. 

Hessler-Radelet went even further than acknowledging that the Peace Corps was more representative of America, she opined that there was strength in this diversity.   And, consequently, this stronger corps conveyed a stronger opinion of America and its youth.

Strength in diversity.

Contrast that viewpoint with what appears to be a common thread among the GOP presidential candidates who believe that all our troubles can be blamed on those with different skin color.  That merely rounding up and deporting those that are different from us, while keeping out future people who wish to take advantage of America's benefits, is all we need to make us "strong" again.  Sadly, when strong is code word for all-white, it is easy to see through the rhetoric.  Even more sad, when a statement that all (fill in the blank) people are criminals is not only not questioned, but cheered, it makes one wonder which side of the issue the ancestors of those who agree were on when the Irish (all drunks), Italians (all in the Mafia), Russian (all communist), Polish (all uneducated) were labeled and ostracized in the early 1900's.  I would bet most were on the receiving end of these prejudices, yet their progeny seems to have forgotten that sad lesson of discrimination.

Curiously, nature offers a strong objection to a lack of diversity in species.  Animal populations that have limited exposure to a diverse DNA pool, are frequently beset with gene defects that lead to sickness and reproductive woes.  When the gene pool of a species becomes too narrow, extinction often follows.  Diversity produces multiple family lines, offering the process of natural selection to work its magic as to which line will prosper and which will die off. 

What is really funny is that all men, regardless of current race, have DNA that can be traced back to the birth of our species, Africa.  We all have some percentage of African DNA, yet there are those who spend much of their time and effort to prove the superiority of their race.  There was one particular group of people who took that belief to extremes and tried to purge its country of those it deemed were inferior.  Fortunately, a cooperative effort among nations and people of different ethnicity managed to defeat the Aryan party.

Imagine a world where there was only one breed of dog or only one type of fruit.  Sounds kind of boring, not to mention monotonous, and is something I am sure would be unwelcome.  Yet there are those among us who believe that only one race, or one religion, or one ethnic origin or one version of who we should love is the ideal.  That if everyone was the same, life would be perfect.  Those who think this way may want to read The Point by Harry Nilsson. 

It is not by making everyone the same that we will create a utopian society, but by understanding that it is this very diversity that makes being human so amazing, and that only by embracing the wonderful diversity of mankind will we attain a world full of love rather than hate and peace rather than war. 

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