E Pluribus Unum

Out of many, One.

This simple phrase has been considered the unofficial motto of the United States since it was first incorporated into the Great Seal of the United States as a flowing banner clasped in the beak of the American Eagle.

That phrase originally meant that the original Thirteen Colonies were united in a new, single nation. Historians trace the phrase back to ancient Roman and Greek writers who said something more like:

“When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many.”

Wouldn’t that idea make these the truly United States of America? Think that’s possible?

This week the Jamestown Gazette highlights our local ethnic festivals as a way to come just a little closer to that wonderful ideal. But today, unfortunately, the word “Ethnic” is often  a code word for “Different” and even “Alien…” someone set apart.

President John Kennedy once said, ““The unity of freedom has never relied on uniformity of opinion.”

And that’s the problem. A difference of opinion does not automatically make one right and the other wrong. Many people fear, and even resist, understanding different opinions. They are afraid that understanding is the same as agreeing. As a result, understanding some other kinds of people becomes dangerous.

That turns ethnic differences into battle lines. So is unity then impossible? Maybe not.

Like Grandpa used to say, “Thar’s more‘n one way to skin a cat” And the more ways you know, the smarter you are. That is so obvious, it is hard to understand that everyone is not out trying hard to find as many different opinion they can. It could be like hoarding wisdom.

So what about an “Opinion Exchange?” It could be a place where we trade ideas and traditions and styles with each other and accept different ones as gifts and treasures.

That’s what our ethnic festivals are for. Enjoy! Come home smarter and, naturally, well fed. Few events in human history nurture unity than the breaking of bread together. Ethnic festivals might be the best way explain what people mean when they talk about the value of “Diversity” on the American scene.

It can pay off to experience the diversity for yourself. Tyler Cowen, an American economist and economics professor at George Mason University, once told his students, “Real cultural diversity results from the interchange of ideas, products, and influences, not from the development of a single national style.”

So please sample all you can of ways and traditions and even opinions that are different from yours. Jamestown’s ethnic festivals are not here for different cultures to merely brag about who they are and what they do. They are here to show us all what they have brought and what they want to give away.

E pluribus unum. Enjoy the read.