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DARREL SMITH: Diverse communities may harm us

3 min read
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Published Mobridge Tribune, January 13, 2016

Human diversity is very important.

Universities spend considerable effort to include a diverse faculty and student body. Larger businesses and researchers also focus on creating a diverse workforce. Many of the challenges society faces are becoming increasingly complex and require teams to create solutions. Research demonstrates that diverse groups of people in teams are often more productive than even better qualified teams who have similar types of people in the team (an engineer may be very important to a team but a second engineer is not as important). Well-functioning diverse teams just seem to be more creative and productive.

How does diversity affect communities? John Leo in an article called “Bowling With Our Own” described a five year study by Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, author of “Making Democracy Work” and “Bowling Alone.” The research was disheartening enough that he delayed publishing it. The study showed “immigration and ethnic diversity have a devastating short-and medium-term influence on the social capital, fabric of associations, trust, and neighborliness that create and sustain communities…Trust, even for members of one’s own race, is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friendships fewer. The problem isn’t ethnic conflict or troubled racial relations, but withdrawal and isolation. Putnam writes: “In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’—that is, to pull in like a turtle.’”

“Diversity does not produce ‘bad race relations,’ Putnam says. Rather, people in diverse communities tend ‘to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.” Putnam adds a crushing footnote: his findings ‘may underestimate the real effect of diversity on social withdrawal’…Neither age nor disparities of wealth explain this result… Even when communities are equally poor or rich, equally safe or crime-ridden, diversity correlates with less trust of neighbors, lower confidence in local politicians and news media, less charitable giving and volunteering, fewer close friends, and less happiness.

If he’s right, heavy immigration will inflict social deterioration for decades to come, harming immigrants as well as the native-born. Putnam is hopeful that eventually America will forge a new solidarity based on a ‘new, broader sense of we.’ The problem is how to do that in an era of multiculturalism and disdain for assimilation.” Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Special Assistant to John Kennedy wrote “The Disuniting of America” about this issue and you can also internet search: “Robert Putnam diversity study.”

If this research is correct it could be devastating to our country, our state and the Mobridge area. Why are diverse teams beneficial to solving complex business and research projects and devastating to the social fabric of communities? Is it possible, that unlike diverse communities, business and research teams have clearly agreed-upon purposes and goals? Diverse communities may harm us unless we can return to a oneness or unity about who we are…

Darrel Smith writes a weekly column for the Mobridge Tribune. He is a South Dakota businessman and the owner of ChristsInternet.com