I’ve had the pleasure of a life full of great teachers, many of whom weren’t paid for the job; Friends, family, even strangers who weren’t intent on teaching me a thing but from whose example I learned, never the less. I have two teachers to thank for inspiring this post. One was an actual teacher. The other was the United States Army.
I like to think my military career spanned from the age of 1 day old through until my early teens. I spent it under the strict command of my father with whom I served multiple tours all over the world before eventually graduating to government service in still more parts of the world. I’m an army and government brat and, for all that I didn’t enjoy the moving around while it was happening, I highly value it now that I have some years on me and enough wisdom to reflect on all I gained from the experience. Of great note is a nearly complete absence of bigotry (I still hate mean people so I’ve got a little more evolving left to do).
You see, growing up on and off bases all over Europe (with brief stints in other parts of the world) I didn’t really learn a concept of “different” because, when you get right down to it, everybody is different. Find me a set of identical twins and I will say with absolute conviction there will be differences in tastes or beliefs. Nobody is completely the same as anybody else. And though it’s seemingly conflicting, the fact that we’re ALL different from one another means, in at least one way we’re ALL the same.
When you get right down to it, living on a base in a foreign land, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about race, religion or any other differences when the person you’re considering is the same person who will cover you in a firefight, pull shrapnel out of your body, rescue you from a car wreck, protect you from terrorists or die on your behalf because that’s his job. It levels the playing field when you’re a small, close-knit community in a distant, foreign land and all interdependent on one another. And when you’re born into that environment, there isn’t much room for stereotyping to be ingrained into you at an early age.
While the Army planted the seed, a biology teacher, years later, would help me understand what grew from it. He had us entertain the merits of cloning and genetic manipulation and put it in the context of a genetically engineered forest all cloned from one perfect tree that was resistant to every disease known in the northern hemisphere. What a beautiful forest it would be, no? How elegant in its uniformity. Just picture all the trees growing rank and file, each with perfectly branching limbs, each with healthy, insect resistant leaves, each twin of its neighbor with only the most subtle of differences and, at the heart of this lovely forest, the Mother tree from which all the others were born.
He did a great job of painting the scene. You could almost hear the wind in the branches. And then he ruined it by introducing a disease carried by a storm or a parasite that hitched a ride on a migratory bird that just happened to land on one of the trees. The clincher… it was one mutated tree-killer to which the Mother tree of this forest was vulnerable. You can imagine what happened next. He destroyed our idyllic forest by describing the inevitable ruin of rotting deadwood that would be left in its place a few years after the alien pathogen arrived.
For all the apparent loveliness of a human-engineered forest, uniform, artistically planted, the simple fact of the matter is that trees, bugs, animals and people exist today for one simple reason - we have differences. It is variety and the subtle differences that allowed life to continue on this planet after the majority of species died off (multiple times) in ELEs (Extinction Level Events). It is our differences that have protected humanity from disease and plague throughout our history, assuring that while many may die, enough of us would survive to rebuild. It is, therefore, our differences that we should cherish rather than shun. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, whatever race you may be, you represent a critical element in our species that serves to greatly increase our odds of survival against all but the most lethal of circumstances.
Celebrate our difference. Therein lies our success.