August 04, 2010

Mosque celebrates multiculturalism

A columnist explains how a White House performance and the proposed mosque near Ground Zero demonstrate America's multicultural strength:

Broadway and the Mosque

By Thomas L. FriedmanAfrican-American singers and Hispanic-American dancers belting out the words of Jewish and Irish immigrant composers, accompanied by white musicians whose great-great-grandparents came over on the Mayflower for all I know—all performing for America’s first black president whose middle name is Hussein.

The show was so full of life, no one could begrudge Elaine Stritch, 84, for getting a little carried away and saying to Mr. Obama, seated in the front row: “I’d love to get drunk with the president.”

Feeling the pulsating energy of this performance was such a vivid reminder of America’s most important competitive advantage: the sheer creative energy that comes when you mix all our diverse people and cultures together. We live in an age when the most valuable asset any economy can have is the ability to be creative—to spark and imagine new ideas, be they Broadway tunes, great books, iPads or new cancer drugs. And where does creativity come from?

I like the way Newsweek described it in a recent essay on creativity: “To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).”

And where does divergent thinking come from? It comes from being exposed to divergent ideas and cultures and people and intellectual disciplines. As Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, once put it to me: “One thing we know about creativity is that it typically occurs when people who have mastered two or more quite different fields use the framework in one to think afresh about the other. Intuitively, you know this is true. Leonardo da Vinci was a great artist, scientist and inventor, and each specialty nourished the other. He was a great lateral thinker. But if you spend your whole life in one silo, you will never have either the knowledge or mental agility to do the synthesis, connect the dots, which is usually where the next great breakthrough is found.”
Comment:  I've documented tens of thousands of ways Native Americans have influenced our culture on my website and in my blog. The examples range from the first Thanksgiving to today's misguided Indian mascots and hipster headdresses. In a broad sense, Indians have forced us to reconsider our centuries-old historical and religious doctrines. They've had notable impacts in fields such as medicine, agriculture, civil rights, and the environment.

As I wrote in America's Cultural Roots, our whole country is based on meeting, dealing with, and overcoming Indians. If the land had been unoccupied, as our founding myths claim, I suspect our culture would've turned out very differently. Who knows? America might've been like Iceland--a truly empty land that Europeans colonized in historical times.

For more on how Indians have influenced us, see Review of American Indian Contributions and 100 Amazing Indian Discoveries. For more on multiculturalism, see Multiculturalism Defined and Comics and Culture Need Multicultural Perspective.

1 comment:

Rob said...

A comment someone posted on another item:

I read the following on a Star Trek forum today as a retort to the argument that the "Ground Zero" mosque should not be built so close to the former site of the twin-towers.

"Would you like to basically exterminate a race of people and then take their names for the cities you build on their bones? Welcome to Milwaukee! (Or Sioux City, or....)"