Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On Standards and Diversity

There is a general belief that there are standards that apply equally to all of us and that those standards are not linked to specific peoples and social structures. Not even math, the purest of disciplines, is totally disconnected from contexts, peoples, society.

A linguist once asked me if it was true that Puerto Ricans, as colonials, are a very docile group of people. Had this conversation taken place in a bodega it would have been quite normal to speak off the top of your head, though it showed a limited thinking capacity when it came to human nature. But this conversation was taking place in a higher education institution and in a program teaching courses on socio linguistics, a field dedicated to the formulation and codification of concepts. Obviously, this linguist was not up to the standards required to understand how language evolves and its relationship to power structures, much less able to work with Puerto Ricans students if this was his view of the given ethnic groups. Yet, there he was in a position where he has been hired as a leader on his field but unable to apply his knowledge to specific situations. Quite often getting caught up with the standards do not let you see the details, processes, and intentions that support or modify such standards.

Quotas are one thing, bringing people who hold different experiences and histories to work together in a given situation is another story. It is not to suggest that everyone going thru the same experience will be able to reflect upon them and formulate an objective analysis of the given situations. But even if the individual who has gone through the situation is not able to be objective, the experience itself can serve to engage others in a dialogue that might provide a balance analysis or suggest a path to follow, investigate for further reflection. But if those on the borders of circles of power are not allowed to participate simply because they do not meet the established standards, then the standards themselves will stagnate.

Lots of young girls and boys are not longer brought up to believe that girls are to be protected by boys, and when married to be submissive and follow their husbands’ orders. Yet not so long ago these were the standards ruling much of contemporary society, and were changed because selected voices decided to participate in the public discussion of women and men social dynamics. The same can be said of other groups living on the margins of the circles of power: they have entered the public arena and transformed the rules of what is discussed, accepted and/or rejected.

And these public discussions not only apply to human dynamics but to other fields such as the natural sciences, “the earth is no longer flat”; mathematics (carry out the quantity of water experiment with a six year old and you will see); religion. Finally, after so many centuries the Pope agreed with the ideas of psychoanalysis: purgatory is inside all of us. How we go about getting rid of it is another story and set of standards.

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