We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams. - Jimmy Carter
Many years ago, I visited a home where the homeowner had never thrown away the broken and chipped dishes that happen. Instead, each little piece was taken into the yard where they formed a beautiful and resplendent path that was never quite complete. It was lined with flowers and small seating areas. It was glorious.
The same could once be said of this nation. We are often described as a melting pot, but think of how our communal identity transforms when we begin thinking instead of a mosaic. In a melting pot, each person is absorbed into the whole. Assimilation is the goal. With a mosaic, each person is welcomed in as themselves - not to be merged into all others, but to deepen the beauty.
No human lives who is a perfect being. All humans have chips and rough edges that can become sharp. Those edges are smoothed down with love and compassion. We have become far too comfortable with simply throwing out the broken or flawed people in our lives, much as we throw out broken dishes. Many of those people have edges and cracks that are smoothed down with love and compassion of another person or people. Yet, too many never find that person or community.
Even when finding people is easiest as we enter school surrounded by peers who often become friends, there are people who remain on the outside of the main, eating alone in the cafeteria, day after day. For many, that turns school into an endurance test where people try to survive, not where they learn to thrive. The idea of a melting pot leads to bullying and teasing for those who never quite fit into the assimilated whole. We emphasize and reward conformity, and those who step into actual identical uniforms to play sports or perform in bands and choirs are often at the peak of the social structure.
As we age, some of us reject this conditioning and find we are drawn to those who are not all the same. We find artists who allow us to see beauty in things that are distinctly different from things we have seen before. We hear music that stimulates our senses in new ways. We travel and visit new places to discover new vistas to witness the majesty of the planet we inhabit. We hear new stories and encounter people who are unlike ourselves and those we have known. That is a key element of transformation.
We live in a remarkable time, where books, television, and movies can open up those experiences to many who would never have the financial means to travel to witness them in person. Yet, many close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears, and obstinately commit to only seeing one way of being.
I recently read a social media post where one person posted an image of a Thomas Danbo troll erected in a city park in my home state of Wyoming, Another person immediately chimed in to say they hated it because in their mind the state should only have western sculptures. There was no space in their heart or their imagination for art that was not Charles Remington or those who work in his style.
We often treat other people the same way. We debate identity and try to label some people as the wrong fit for our nation in the same way that person categorized the art. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having opinions about people and things that are narrower than others, to want the conformity of the melting pot. There is something fatally flawed in demanding that all others desire that same melting pot, instead of the mosaic.
Do you ever watch cooking competition shows like Top Chef or Master Chef? The people competing are often placed into teams. The teams that do best are not the ones that seek conformity, but the teams that ask each individual which skill or talent they can bring into the kitchen. A team of eight who all know how to cook steak, but which lacks someone who can bake or cook vegetables, often fall to the bottom. Even individuals who only know one flavor profile often are eliminated, because our pallets crave diversity.
Our lives are richer and deeper when we are not surrounded by sameness. We can learn to conform, but in conformity comes a deep and profound loneliness. We learn to hide who who are and what we think behind masks that prevent us from taking full breath into our hearts and lungs to nurture those bodies. In conformity, the world may get the version of you that it desires, but the cost is the death of the spirit.
In the mosaic is where we learn to thrive.
The beautiful mosaic of broken and chipped people is the very essence of life.