E PLURIBUS, YOU AND ME

We have been lots of places and have met a lot of extraordinary people, since our last blog post. California was incredible, albeit hotter this summer than normal. Here are a few observations from our time in the Golden State.

California is incredibly beautiful. The complex geography is impressive; but, the microclimates are shocking. In the Ozarks they say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes.” In California, they could say, “If you don’t like the weather, drive a few miles.”

The variety of weather may only be surpassed by the diversity of cultures and people. It is not the “land of fruits and nuts,” as some might sneer; it is America. There may not be a state that more fully embodies all we are as a country than California. One of our friends we stayed with in the Bay Area commented on this common idea that California is everything that’s wrong with America, when he said, “That’s just not true. This state is doing very well.” There’s economic growth, innovation, creativity…and everyone seems happy to be there. Yes, they pay high taxes, the cost of living is nearly unsustainable, and there is a growing income disparity; but everyone we talked to agreed that the challenges did not outweigh the opportunities and the values. Well, that’s not entirely true. I had a great conversation with a police officer in Richmond who told me no one should move there. “They talk about tolerance, but they’re completely intolerant. Everyone hates everyone else.” That was not our experience, but we don’t occupy his vantage point.

A lot of people we’ve talked to are former Missourians, or Springfieldians. When we asked them what they missed, some talked about space and time. There was a common nostalgia for a less crowded and slower pace of life. Mallory was an exception. Living and working in Oakland, she took the perspective that more room and a slower pace promote an ownership and entitlement that she doesn’t see in her California life. Very few people can afford to own real estate on the West Coast. Combine that with the multicultural reality you face on the street and in the workplace, and there’s a structure that shapes your experience and discourse in a very different way from the Midwest. Our interpretation of her comment is that when we have the ability to own property, and we have more control over our rhythms and relationships, most of us are likely to default to what’s easy. And what’s easy is often a homogeneous experience, where different races, creeds, or political ideologies are marginalized. Over time, our experience can start to feel “normal,” or something to which we are entitled.

Some structures imply that we need each other, others suggest we can get along just fine without differences in our lives. But, we do need each other. We become one nation by putting all of our interlocking pieces together. When we have the ability and predisposition for retreat and isolation, we start to become less than the sum of our parts, not more.

Our motto – e pluribus unum – translates from the Latin: out of many, one. The Roman orator, Cicero, said, “When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many.”

We have the many, there’s no question. We are the most diverse nation on the planet. I’m not sure how we get to the kind of love that makes us one. I’m not sure how it happens when a great number of us live in places where we have to choose to embrace our diversity, because it’s not part of our daily reality. There’s no question the gigantic answer is somewhere in that disconnect.

The unum is you and me. It begins with us. What do you think?

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