I’ve been traveling in very diverse circles recently, professionally and personally, which has inspired some thinking on cultural diversity. My “Barcode Theory” of human “becoming” attempts to explain how cross-cultural encounters change people and how cultural diversity contributes to human “becoming”. The model also attempts to show that when diversity is absent individuals and society don’t realize their potential or “become” (i.e., develop, improve, grow). In fact, this theory suggests that a lack of diversity could result in stasis, nothingness or even backwardation?
About a decade ago I invented a “party trick” where players create their personal “bar code” on their cocktail napkin and the “barcodes” are then compared and contrasted, stimulating rich conversation. How it works: players draw vertical strokes at 5 year intervals indicating life-changing events. The thickness of each bar indicates the relative impact (good or bad) a life event has had on the person. Thin bars are smaller catalytic life events. White space is nothing. Each person has a unique “barcode” representing their life, just as each person has a unique DNA profile. Players with dense barcodes seem to have rich, eventful lives. On the other hand, some players can only conjure up few life-altering experiences and tend to have a lot of white space in their barcodes. I can only imagine that the sparse barcodes denoted safe, “normal”, content lives or the player is not reflective; I contend that human beings who are distracted and not introspective tend not to notice life passing, and are not appreciating the smallest nuances of life that can be profound. Perhaps this is what is meant by the expression “God is in the details”?
So, what then constitutes a catalytic life experience worthy of a thick bar? I’d like to suggest that noteworthy experiences are the memories that will flash before our eyes as we journey towards the white light at death. These are the times when we were uncomfortable. The times of our lives when we had to think and deal with challenge, discomfort, change, the different and… “the other”. Thus, the more we interact with “the other” and those on the “outside” of society and culture, the more we experience and grow. This argues that diversity (culturally, intellectually, spiritually, environmentally, economically) is necessary for human development because humans need to be confronted with “the other” to feel uncomfortable and grow. In other words, the absence of diversity in life results in the absence of experiences, and the absence of catalytic experiences results in barcodes with a lot of “white space” (nothingness). This nothingness and non-growth is stasis, possibly even negative human development?
So, then, what to make of all those people who have a lot of white space in their barcodes? Well, we need them for “contrast”…literally. They’re a necessary foil to those who are “enlightened” in the complex tapestry of life. We need “white space” to balance the “dark bars’”. Without light and dark, we can’t see the face of God. But if God is a black man – which Dr. Cornel West (who I’m seeing speak at NYU next week) would agree might be delightful retribution – then humanity could do with a bit more diversity, conflict, resolution, experience… to “thicken” our “bars” and create denser “codes”.