In my post on Leveraging Diversity the Right Way, I referred to several independent studies* that found groups with diverse members did better at complex problem solving and decision making tasks than homogenous groups. It’s significant to note that all of these studies were focused on groups working toward a common goal, and specifically demonstrate the benefits of diversity where there’s a unifying purpose and shared understanding of the reason the group exists. It’s also worth noting that, though participants in each study were selected for diversity, they all spoke the same language, as it was necessary for members to be able to communicate effectively with one another.
Because of our unique history, America is the most diverse nation in the world. That makes these studies particularly interesting to us. One thing we can learn from them is that, in order to leverage that diversity to work to our advantage, it’s important that we all share a common belief in the principles that define our nation. That’s the bond that serves as our unifying purpose. It’s also important that we speak a common language. It’s wonderful for people to be multilingual. But English is the linqua franca of our nation that allows us all to communicate with one another.
America has always been a nation of immigrants. Traditionally, immigrants have come here because they believed in the principles that make America great, and they appreciated the opportunity to work hard and build a better life for themselves and their posterity. Many of them didn’t speak English, but they learned enough to get by, and made sure their children learned it well. Each subsequent generation managed to work their way a little higher up the economic ladder and sacrificed to make sure their children could get a better education than they had. This has been a pattern throughout our nation’s history, and our economy and culture have benefitted greatly from the contributions of immigrants from all parts of the world.
Today, there’s a concept that immigrants should strive to preserve their cultural traditions rather than assimilate into the “melting pot” of America. Some even think it’s unfair to require people who come to live in our country to learn English. Acceptance of diversity is fundamental to the principles on which this country was founded. But accommodation of diversity is a courtesy, not an obligation.
Acceptance of diversity is the acknowledgement of everybody’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of whatever happiness may mean to them, in whatever manner they choose to pursue it, as long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others. Accommodation is subsidizing elements of a particular culture or lifestyle at somebody else’s expense. If an individual or private enterprise chooses to accommodate another culture’s traditions at their own expense, that’s fine. But the government should not be in that business. One example of unwarranted accommodation is requiring all government printed material and recorded information to be provided in both English and Spanish, at taxpayer expense. Another is installing foot washing basins in restrooms at certain airports and universities, at taxpayer expense, to accommodate a Muslim purification ritual. These expenditures do not serve the majority of the population, and should not be funded through general taxation.
Preserving cultural traditions is good, and I would not suggest that anybody deny their own heritage or the culture in which they grew up. That’s part of their identity. But it’s possible to preserve cultural traditions and still adopt the values and language of the country in which one chooses to become a citizen. If someone adopts a new country, should they not feel a sense of pride in the country they’ve chosen as their home, and to which they’ve sworn allegiance? Should they not show as much respect for its culture as for the culture of the land they left behind? Becoming a citizen of a country means adopting that country’s heritage and culture as your own, in addition to the culture and heritage of your ancestry. Changing one’s country isn’t like changing one’s shoes. One must expect to adapt to the new environment, not the other way around. Most immigrants are more than willing to do so. If some are not, one has to wonder why they chose to come here.