Mighty are the mongrels, untouchables, and contrarians!

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In all candor, I’m hopelessly addicted to Nobel Prize winning writers and New York Times best-selling authors. An image of yours truly salivating at the mouth when the latest best seller shows up on my front steps, thanks to Amazon, is not that far off the mark.

Which takes us to some loaded words sometimes assigned to people who are, well, different, and to two authors; specifically, words from their works that jumped out at me…. “contrarians” and “untouchables.” 

Love him or despise him ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith is never shy when it comes to expressing his opinions, or his opinions of the opinion of others. Several times in his best seller, “Straight Shooter – A memoir of Second Chances and First Takes,” Smith aptly described himself as a habitual “contrarian.”

Humm, “contrarian.” Now it didn’t take long for that word to conjure up another word from something I wrote years ago. That word…. “mongrel!”

Oh wait, that also got me to thinking about still another word, “untouchable,” as it is described in Isabel Wilkinson’s best seller, “Caste, The Origins of our Discontents.” In it a flabbergasted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was introduced while visiting India as an “untouchable.” You read that right.

Since we’re talking about loaded words, let’s shift to a quote that’s loaded with them. Read it a few times before dismissing or admitting that there are some kernels of truth in it.

“Diversity defines the health and wealth of nations in a new century. Mighty is the mongrel. The hybrid is hip. The impure, the mélange, the adulterated, the blemished, the rough, the black-and-blue, the mix-and-match – these people are inheriting the earth. Mixing is the new norm. Mixing trumps isolation. It spawns creativity, nourishes the human spirit, spurs economic growth and empowers nations.”

I’ll admit that this quote isn’t mine. Its actual source is G. Pascal Zachary’s year 2000 book The Global Me: New Cosmopolitans and the Competitive Edge. Now you have to admit that this one’s a real thought-provoker. Once I ceased quibbling over Zachary’s choice of words and began processing the quote on another level, it started to hit home. Here’s why.

First, it squares with where my thinking about diverse people has evolved to over the years. Although I’ve used more palatable words (mongrel, adulterated, impure – couldn’t quite getthere Mr. Zackary), I’ve said that people will continue to show up packaged, talking, and acting differently. Even today. Just walk out your front door, cruise through the local mall, visit your nearest schools or make your way through a crowded airport. Case closed.

And the suitcase that diversity brings will contain a variety of perspectives on issues and approaches to dealing with those issues. Different expectations and behaviors will tumble out before the unpacking’s done. The Golden Rule, “Treat people the way you want to be treated,” will be flipped on its head and replaced with the Platinum Rule “Treat people the way they want to be treated.”

Second, this new diversity will continue to have a bold new bravado, a uniquely different swagger to it. It’s going to walk upright through the front door unapologetically different from what we’re accustomed to. It’s going to pull up a seat next to us as a talented engineer, teacher, widow, ex-con, gay person, introvert, veteran, or school dropout.

It may startle us in the form of a talented ball of fire who doesn’t respond well to micromanagement or knock on the front door in the person of a talented woman with breast cancer, a person dealing with attention deficit disorder or homelessness.

Now let’s not get too comfortable with any reassuring thoughts that this new diversity is enroute someplace and may get here someday in the future. Yes, part of it is coming; it’s hurtling toward us as the new workforce, new students, new customers, new medical practitioners, and new entrepreneurs. Yet the other part is right here staring you in the face, right down the hallway, in the next cubicle, in the adjacent production line, in the customers you have and in the ones you’re after.

Third, this new diversity means that we’re probably in for a ride – a bumpy one at that. Our comfortable niches and time-honored notions about what’s right and wrong, normal, and abnormal, will get nipped around the edges. 

Suddenly, all bets are now off. Maybe we need a zinger from time to time, a periodic wake-up call, a kick in the behind, a much-needed potent dose of this reality.

So in the end, do we close the door on that tattooed geek, that chiseled good ole boy, that unashamed transexual or members of the lunatic fringe? Hey, if they’re talented, bring them on in and give them a seat at the table of opportunity. And while doing so, give the existing bigots and incompetents, the bullies, and the sentinels of the status quo a one-way trip to the front door.

We’re left with these questions: how can we continue to work together with all these new diversities in ways that will make our communities and organizations hum along on all cylinders? What in the grand scheme of things must I – not anyone else – but I do as an individual to welcome, contribute to, and grow from these dynamic new changes to the mix? Or do I stay put, ignore the changes coming my way and risk getting jettisoning into remnants of history?

Who knows, maybe it’s the mongrel, the untouchable, or the contrarian who will appear out of nowhere and nudge us over the edge into Mr. Zackary’s reality.

Fasten your seatbelt!

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and third place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.