EBOO PATEL: When do they teach you that diversity is not just the differences you like? It's not all samosas and egg rolls. Diversity is about disagreements. There's a great line: "Diversity is not rocket science; it's harder." Because if you're engaging people with whom you have differences that you don't like, that you have disagreements, you've got to figure out how you're going to engage those people. Does the fact of that disagreement—voting differently in a particular election, disagreeing on fundamental issues, immigration policy for example, abortion—does that disagreement cancel any chance of a relationship? If it does, we don't have a civil society anymore.
How do you have PTAs, or little leagues, or hospitals if people who disagree on some fundamental things are not able to work together in athletics, in medicine, in education, in the arts, on other fundamental things. That's what a diverse civil society is about, the ability to disagree on some fundamental things and still work together on other fundamental things. That doesn't mean that you bracket your disagreement forever. Part of the beauty of working together on other fundamental things is the ability to build a relationship on something that matters such that you might be able to broach that disagreement with a different tone. But if we allow some disagreements to cancel any possibility of a relationship we're in real trouble as a society.
Now of course there are limits. I am happy to engage just about everybody in the United States of America in a conversation or to be part of an athletic league with them or to be on the PTA with them, but I'm not buying a brownie from the KKK bake sale. There are limits, but I think that in a diverse civil society when we recognize that diversity is not just the differences we like, those limits are not the person who voted differently from you in the last election; those limits are the true barbarians. And the way the great political philosopher defined the term barbarian is: the barbarian is the person who destroys the conversation. Civilization means people from different backgrounds living together and talking together. The barbarian is the person who destroys the conversation. I think that person is beyond the circle of civil discourse; anybody else, I'm engaging with.