Thursday, December 28, 2006


Kwanzaa is an African American cultural holiday (i.e., not a religious holiday) which was invented to celebrate and amplify family, community, and culture. The name of the holiday comes from a Swahili phrase for “first fruits” – “matunda ya kwanza.” The extra “a” in Kwanzaa is there to distinguish the American festival from the Swahili word. People emphasize a different one of the Seven Principles on each of the seven days: Umoja or Unity, Kujichaguliya or Self-determination, Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility, Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics, Nia or Purpose, Kuumba or Creativity, and Imani or Faith. For full details of the holiday, you can Google “Kwanzaa” or go to the History Channel:

This year we celebrated the first night of Kwanzaa with some very dear friends. Many different kinds of people were part of this evening’s observance: Blacks, Whites, American Indians, Latinos, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and who knows what else. Along with the pouring of libations and the lighting of candles, we went around the room so elders could share their ideas on Unity with the children present. As we ate a wonderful feast afterward, I continued thinking about the principle of Unity and the things people said, and decided to write something concerning unity and diversity.

The reason I choose to emphasize “unity and diversity” is that we celebrated and discussed unity, we were such a diverse group, and a number of the comments blended that diversity into the remarks about unity. The first speakers talked about maintaining the unity of the African American community and of the family. I mentioned that I believed that unity was also beauty. After all, all people are beautiful. I believe that the Creator deliberately made us all different, with our tremendous variety of skin colors, religions, cultures and points of view. I believe this is part of the challenge the Creator gives us: to enjoy - no to embrace - this variety, to glory in such diversity, and to learn to live in unity with our differences. This is the challenge given to us; the promise given to us is that living in unity adds an even greater beauty and meaning in our lives.

But the purpose of diversity is much more important than the fun and the beauty of being able to get along with each other. The challenge/fun part is the bait for a crucial aspect of life. In every endeavor, the greater the diversity, the greater the number of options we have and the greater the probability of success. It boils down to this: when you have more options, you have a better chance of finding something that works. For example, if your only option is to go naked, then you can only live in a very restricted area of the planet. But if you can build shelter and make clothing, your inhabitable area jumps to be several times larger.

Can you see where I’m heading?

Biologically, the greater the gene pool, the better the chance the human race has for finding combinations of physical characteristics that enhance survivability. In this respect, our tremendous physical/racial diversity is a great gift. It practically guarantees that we can survive - unless, of course, we outsmart ourselves and ruin the whole planet, then we don’t have much chance at all. But in just about all other scenarios, our diversity guarantees that the human race can live in various environments, can find someplace on the planet to survive. That’s the physical side of this gift.

Along with physical evolution, we have also been given the gift of socio-cultural evolution. We have developed a thousand times as many cultural variations as we have physical. This unfathomable diversity of social options gives us so many opportunities to do things differently, that we ought to be able to find many, many possible ways to do things. But we have to be smart enough to realize that all this cultural material is out there for us to embrace, to learn, to adopt and adapt, to use.

This socio-cultural diversity also gives us the means to see ourselves and our world(s) with different eyes, to imagine a great variety of possible worlds and a tremendous number of potential solutions to each of our problems.

But if we insist on living only as we are, we are doomed. If we never wake up to realize that there are thousands of ways of doing things other than our present white, male, raging capitalist, international corporate enslavement, then we might as well hang it up and slit our throats right now.

To survive, we must try embracing-learning-loving our neighbors, with their different races and cultures and attitudes and perspectives. We must finally grow up enough to accept all that the Creator has given to us. Only then will we be able to unify ourselves enough to learn from each other about our diversity, and then to combine unity and diversity to create beautiful new worlds and vibrant new lives.

By the way, we should do this not for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren, and THEIR…. You get the idea.

And this is just one of the different perspectives most of the other cultures on the planet give us.

Happy New Year, Brothers and Sisters!