When diversity is in decline as Roger von Oech expressed concern about last week, creativity is getting replaced by fear. Likewise when conversations become superficial, gratuitous and meaningless as Timothy Johnson playfully portrayed recently, creativity is getting weeded out by uninspired reactions to evidence.
We always have a range for tolerable deviance in our minds. Sometimes we define acceptable deviance broadly. We can handle all kinds of deviations from the norm. We experience fascination with variety and acceptance of others' experimentation. Other times we stick our own kind and shoot the messenger of our commonality. We freak out at weird hairdos, clothing and speech mannerisms. We "catastrophize, demonize and awfulize" qualities that are unlike us. How many people we consider "us" shrinks while the number of "them" increases dramatically.
How much tolerance we exhibit varies with our anxiety level, perceptions of danger and recent experiences with antagonism. It makes sense to me that our collective tolerance for diversity would have shrunk dramatically following the Columbine massacre, bursting of the Internet bubble, 9/11, and the invasion of Iraq. The news media keeps danger on our minds: "if it bleeds it leads". It naturally follows that we'd be on the lookout for disguised enemies, stranger danger, and signs of someone being "not our kind".
Narrow ranges of tolerable deviance are structured to be self maintaining in social situations. Once some traumatic incident becomes an obsession, the treatment of others demonstrates the intolerance that is a sure sign of danger. Intolerance manufactures the evidence to keep defenses strong, walls high and tolerance narrowed. Isolation seems preferable to exposure. Collusion inside a walled garden seems safer than open communities.
The way out of self-perpetuating intolerance is creativity. We must see the familiar evidence as unfamiliar: in a new light, with more insight, on the basis of different premises. We must also see the unfamiliar as familiar: in the same boat, facing the same pressures, just as human. Rather than play by the rules that qualifies an "us" from a "them, we play with the rules. We rule that people like us have two nipples and a nose. We play around instead of playing for keeps.
When we are on common ground, creative inspirations come to mind. We receive what to give others that will put their minds at ease, explore a different perspective, or give them a way to join in an reciprocal arrangement. Diversity seems better than collusion and significant conversations seem more valuable than chatter.