Published on: June 2, 2009by Michael Sansolo
While I like to believe that ideas for our discussions at MorningNewsBeat can come from anywhere, I have to admit that this week’s was a surprise. And that only proved once again the challenges of diversity in our society.
My daughter, Sarah, usually amazes me with her intellect and her knowledge of far-flung topics. So I was somewhat stunned when she handed me the Sunday comics and asked to explain what could possibly be funny about one particular strip. I should explain that Sarah is no slouch, having just graduated from college with enough honors to make me wonder how exactly I helped produce her. But this time, she was stumped.
It quickly became clear why. The cartoon, while not especially clever, required knowledge she couldn’t possibly have: the last names of the original Three Stooges. Sarah may be Phi Beta Kappa, but I know Moe, Larry and Curly way better.
It brought me back to thinking about last week’s column in MNB on “The Big Sort” and how Americans are separating into like-minded communities. Our problem isn’t just living around people who agree with us, it’s learning to understand those who don’t.
For instance, this Sunday’s Washington Post magazine featured an article about Brandon Hardesty, who became incredibly famous by acting out movie scenes in his parents’ basement and posting those short videos on YouTube.com. In case you are wondering how that fame pays off, his videos were getting viewed in such stunning numbers that YouTube itself even noticed and struck a deal with the young man to build advertising revenue off of him. Now Hardesty is off to make real movies.
I never heard of Brandon Hardesty; Sarah didn’t know the Stooges’ last names were Howard, Fine and Howard. What a world.
Only here’s where it gets interesting. I doubt there is a single company out there who can boast a level of success with employees watching training videos that equals what Hardesty produced in his basement. Wouldn’t it have been amazing if Weis Supermarkets, Hardesty’s employer (until recently), could have used his video talents in a productive way. I’m betting most of his managers at Weis were as clueless as I was about Hardesty’s talents.
So the problem isn’t that we are sorting. Birds of a feather in some ways have always flocked together. The difference is today we can do it so much more easily. And today, more than ever, we need to keep an eye on those different from us to find out what they know, how they live and why different doesn’t mean wrong.
In complex times and in a complex society, we have no choice. We have to understand these divides and find ways to breach them time and again…or we lose.
We should also remember that at times we aren’t different at all. Sarah and I capped off our weekend by visiting Arlington National Cemetery, something we have long neglected to do despite living so near to Washington, DC. We never should have waited as it’s a trip everyone should make at some point, simply to be awed by the human cost of war that we should never easily forget.
I was moved by the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown. I was stirred by personal memories at the memorials to the crews of both space shuttle disasters and the failed 1980 rescue mission in Iran. But what struck me most were the rows of seemingly endless markers for soldier after soldier and war after war.
There is shockingly little sorting at Arlington. I’m not sure that matters much to us in business, but sometimes it isn’t all about business.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com .
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