After my first week of posting on New World Odor I mentioned that I’d like to hear from readers and even feature their thoughts, views and works through this site . A friend, Robin Snyder took me up on my “Rush Limbaugh Challenge” but other than Robin, comments, which are always welcome, were the only response, until now.
This is the first of what I hope will become a regular feature of New World Odor, a “Guest Blog” category in which we can showcase others’ views.
Mike Schaefer’s “The Salad” addresses a basic change in America’s composition. I hope you enjoy it.
America has for centuries been characterized by the image of a ‘Melting Pot,” an analogy that hints of an initially diverse yet ultimately assimilated, homogeneous citizenry. Thrown together, we blend under heat/pressure until in many ways, we become the same. Throughout America’s journey, immigrants were indeed expected to assimilate. While the “melting pot” analogy may have once been accurate, today America seems more like a “salad bowl.”
In a salad bowl, diverse elements mingle yet maintain their individual characteristics. The “bowl” in this case, America, is the vessel or space where people of different beliefs, customs and appearances can exist together. The flavor of this mix, when done right can be more satisfying than any single element. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Many immigrants define who they are in terms related to where they came from. In America we come from a lot of different places. Mixing unfamiliar, new ingredients can be difficult. How do we retain an American identity and allow space for many diverse subcultures within our borders? To make it work, we must be a community. We must communicate. Common language facilitates communication but what if new members don’t care to learn English?
The “salad bowl” — the space we must share– is finite, as are shared resources. We built our nation on inclusion—at least that’s what our forebears intended. Ideally, freedom–the sense of belonging to a benevolent nation by choice, a nation that cares for and protects its citizens, a nation that allows and encourages divergent personal preferences to coexist, a nation that unites through an inclusive patriotic vision; these are what enables America’s diverse cultures to live in close proximity. If America’s a “salad,” this is the “dressing,” if you will…the substance that engulfs its vast array of ingredients and coheres them into a palatable whole that transcends but also preserves individual/ ancestral traits. We want to belong, yet be proud of who we are… and America defends our right to do so, no matter how different we may be. The spirit of our Declaration of Independence as well as our Constitution asserts and protects these freedoms. They unite us and protect individual differences. Freedom for all requires all to be free.
An open society is an acquired taste. At first it may be uncomfortable for us to embrace different ways of doing things or allow for more to participate but isn’t this what America is supposed to be about? Our collective identity must not merely accept change but welcome it, adapting as necessary to provide freedom and justice for all.
In recent years, those in power interpreted our founding documents, drew conclusions and attempted to selectively apply their own recipe of the “dressing,” in essence, asserting that freedom may not be, as our ancestors intended, for everyone. It is as if they sought to enhance only “preferred parts” of the salad. Once identified, they sought to isolate and merge those select parts to one sector. That part got the “dressing.”
The rest of the ingredients were considered to have a taste too strange to be complemented by this dressing. They were written off as malcontents, even anarchists and traitors.
Isn’t it better to find a dressing that instead of spoiling tried and true ingredients brings out the best in them and enhances those that the old recipe had neglected? In order to make this happen, the salad must be tossed occasionally—perhaps vigorously.
The time has come to re-formulate our policy mix. Obama’s doing that. Although we’ve grown unaccustomed to a politician who actually moves quickly to enact policies and promises made during the heat of an election, it’s refreshing to watch him go after it.
But when you shake things up, there’s uncertainty. As order emerged from chaos at the creation, so too will the next iteration of American culture emerge from our present–day tempests. But knowing what can happen often fails to allay the fear of what might happen.
What are we so afraid of? If we mix things up from time to time, doesn’t everyone get a bit of the dressing? The conservatives fear that too much will be lost and the liberals fear that too little will be changed. But if we do nothing, the dressing that settles becomes rancid, as the ingredients become saturated and limp.
When we develop a fixed notion of what works, we limit possibility; we begin to believe that the salad can be made just one way. This serves no one, since over time, new ingredients come along and we need to be able to adapt the dressing to complement each new addition or the salad just won’t taste right.
We need to be able to mix things up liberally, to air things out and ensure that each citizen benefits from our “cultural dressing. But there is a danger with being too liberal—if the salad’s constantly tossed, never having a chance to settle, the structure of the bowl may be weakened. Our freedoms, our cultures, our ways of life can be fragile. We must handle them with respect and extreme care.
We need to conserve the overall structure, so that as new ingredients appear we can add them without worrying that the overall structure will disintegrate. But there is a danger with being too conservative as well: we can become too comfortable and forget that things haven’t always been this way.
This is no time for comfort. We need to change things – basic things. But changing even basic things doesn’t mean we will destroy what is essential to our individual freedoms or who we are as a nation.
In other words, as we begin to toss this salad, we need to be conservative about the bowl and liberal about the dressing.