Recently, I became re-engaged in music composition, using a very helpful software program. As I taught myself how to navigate the program, I found myself wanting to write more and more, finding it fascinating that there are infinite possibilities for structuring melodies and harmonies with a set number of notes. The idea of creating something new and unique, using a finite set of building blocks – in this case, notes – caused me to think about ourselves and our uniqueness as a result of the slightly altered configurations of our DNA. While we are all made from the same substance, it is amazing that the number of combinations of that substance is infinite.
Pope Francis, during his recent visit to the United States for the World Meeting of Families, touched on this theme in many of his speeches and homilies, when he spoke of working together, collaborating and compromising, while respecting our differences. His words and tone were welcoming and far-reaching, and there was a message of hope, suggesting that possibilities of what can be achieved are limitless if people can work together. And so once again, we have infinite possibilities coming from finite resources – ourselves, who are very much composed of the same stuff, but, at the same time, are vastly different from each other.
Included in the summer 2015 issue of Independent School magazine were a series of essays written by teachers who had participated in the SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) Program, a part of the National Seed Project, coordinated out of Wellesley College. In one essay by Hugo Mahabir, he reflects on his childhood and stated, “The household I grew up in was a place where things were either right or wrong with very little room for ambiguity or variance, even less for multiplicity and plurality.” He writes about his classroom experiences with students and a self-discovery that, as he states, “. . . what I had always believed and sensed as a child was true: that there is more than one answer to a question, that there are many sides to a story, and there is always more than meets the eye.”
In thinking about Mr. Mahabir’s comments as it relates to my experience of creating music that has infinite variations, I cannot help but think that the complexity of human beings causes an unlimited number of possibilities, answers, directions, conclusions, beliefs, and “truths” that all either co-exist or are waiting to be discovered. How can all of us simultaneously ever come to terms with knowing the one answer, the one direction, the one conclusion, the one belief, or the one truth? I believe that the words of Pope Francis help us understand that through dialog, collaboration, and compromise, we might become more unified in thought; however, given the complexities of life, I dare say that to arrive at absolute agreement seems unlikely. But the journey of our lives is about asking questions and seeking answers of and with each other. Doing so with respect, empathy, and authenticity allows us to continue the conversation, rather than stifle it and stifle the endless possibilities that could come from it.
Katherine Phillips wrote an article, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,” in Scientific American (September 14, 2014) based on the report, “State of the World’s Science 2014.” Based on research from Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, and other universities, Phillips discusses the elements of diversity that contribute to better decisions and answers. She comments, “The key to understanding the positive influence of diversity is the concept of information diversity. When people are brought together to solve problems in groups, they bring different information, opinions and perspectives.” These conversations have impact on education, with many institutions’ administration and staff, including Archmere’s, discussing ways in which curriculum is “global,” and “multi-cultural,” and how teaching methodologies include group work and collaborative teambuilding skills. Higher educational research is beginning to quantify the improved outcomes of more diverse working groups.
Just as I get so focused on writing music at times, exploring the possibilities, so too are we beginning to explore and understand the richness of our diverse culture, and how embracing common bonds and respecting differences can create new and innovative outcomes that can benefit us all. And interestingly, the older I get the less I think I know for sure . . . I have more questions about many things, but I am sure about the power of God’s love, and if we embrace it, we can achieve an infinite number of possibilities.