America’s history and diversity are often described with the melting pot symbol. The many different cultural and religious flavors mingle and combine to create one delicious dish… in theory. Some argue that the cultures in the melting pot are expected to meld too much. Rather than a flavorful stew, we get a bland gruel. While law works to protect people so they can express any cultural or religious traditions they choose, conformity is often preferred and even expected. The melting pot image is intended to convey unity, but it has come to encourage conformity.
A better image may be a salad bowl. I heard this imagery from a Canadian friend that was explaining how diversity is handled differently north of the border. If the U.S. is the melting pot then Canada is the salad bowl. In this scenario every cultural element is distinguishable and able to shine forward its own flavor. But in the salad, the flavors work together and complement each other without having to conform.
Conformity requires some type of pressure. This pressure may be imposed through official means like government or church law. Or it may be delivered more subtly through societal or interpersonal interaction. In any case there is an unmistakable feeling of force, that can leave minorities feeling their culture and passions stifled. Such a situation will inevitably lead to rebellion. That rebellion may include violence. The Western world has experienced much of this recently. There has been plenty of talk about revising immigration policies and gun laws, but neither address the core issue of how people treat one another. Laws cannot make people respect one another, embrace diversity, or try new things with an open mind.
This core issue is not easily solved through government intervention. The realm of religion comes closer, but the real potential lies with the individual. People need to recognize the power they have to make change. Granted, it is easier said than done. For many, finding similarities and working to understand differences with a sense of calm and respect is not as easy as flipping a switch. It must be done without condescension or superiority. For example, “… to come to your religious neighbor who is a Buddhist or Muslim, and to want to live in mutual respect, while at the same time thinking that ultimately God wants that Hindu to become a Christian because Christianity is God’s preferred religion, these two attitudes simply don’t go together” (Knitter, 51). For peace and comradery to exist and for diversity to thrive, all traditions must be regarded equally. As challenging as it may be, each person can work to turn the melting pot into the salad bowl with every choice they make.
Knitter, Paul. Cincinnati Interview 2006 in, The Quiet Revolution: The emergence of interfaith consciousness, by P. Kirkwood, 2007. Sydney, Australia: ABC Books.