Harmonizing with Humanitarians Vol. 1: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter

Presidential portrait, 1977

It’s long been said that America is a melting pot. But that has never been the truth. More than a monoculture, we are a nation of immigrants and native people struggling to find a balance between fierce individualism and harmonious living. Now, more than ever, we must find a way to celebrate who we really are so we can reduce our dissonance.

Of all the metaphors used to describe the American demographic — and potentially reframe its aspirations — I find the mosaic idea to be the most compelling. Here’s why:

  • A mosaic’s beauty is largely to do with its overall effect — the story told through juxtaposing many tiles of diverse color, texture, material and size. Each tile has its own beauty, but the fuller beauty can only be appreciated from a wider angle. No matter how each tile is arranged, its proximity to the others and its contribution to the whole is critical to the aesthetic success of the mosaic.
  • Like a mosaic’s tiles, no two humans are exactly like. Equality does not mean homogeneity, neither here nor anywhere else in the world. We are not born to be assimilated into a mindless collective, but to live and thrive together on a planet that supports the diverse permutations of existence. Any observation of life — in person or through books, documentaries or the world-traveling portal of the web — supports this biological fact.
  • Our founding documents proclaim equal rights among a set of freedoms for all Americans. None of the provisions in these documents require us to conform to a particular appearance or way of being. The Framers declared independence as a “mutual pledge” to be free of tyranny, not to impose other forms of tyranny on future generations. No one goes out of their way to create or see a one-color mosaic.
  • Humans may look different, speak different languages, perform different rites and believe different things, but we are all equal participants in a universe seeking balance. Each of us lives an individual life that, taken together with all other life on earth, forms a collective picture. The more we respect our biodiversity, boundaries and sacred connection, the more beautiful and harmonious that picture becomes.
  • All ecosystems, as micro- or macrocosmic as they may appear at the human level, are intrinsically interrelated. Even if they are not directly overlapping, they affect each other in ways we can’t always perceive. However, when humans do perceive and adopt the processes of nature, we tend to have better results than when we work against it. Diverse representation is one such process that we have employed to great effect — for example, our justice system is more egalitarian because juries are a mixture of people from different backgrounds.
  • With all the niche social groups, unique states and nuanced ideologies that we have in our country, a melting pot is not the most accurate metaphor for America. We have always been outspoken as a nation and as individuals, a uniqueness that continues to be our right. For me, this moment is about becoming a colorful work of art rather than a goopy, gray mess.

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