What Bears Say About Diversity

As I was reading the arguments of some Baylor University faculty against the hiring of a chief diversity officer, I fell asleep and had the following dream:

I was in a deep forest and came upon what identified itself as a village of polar bears. I was surprised to find polar bears in a warm forest — I would have expected to encounter the more common brown bears (called “grizzly bears” by some) or black bears. I decided to get close enough to listen but not be seen.

One bear standing up on his hind legs in the middle of the group was warning the other bears that the village was on the verge of extinction: “Look around the forest at the young bears. So many grizzly bears, so many black bears, and then look at the leaders of this village. If we don’t invite in other kinds of bears, we won’t survive.”

A second bear, who clearly was merely an albino bear rather than a true polar bear, stood up and shouted for the first bear to sit down: “What you say is fine for other villages, but we are not other villages! The Lord Bear has put us here to be different from the other villages.”

The first bear noted that the Lord Bear had commanded them to reach out to the needy, and surely that would include bears barred from being village leaders in the days of old. Albino bear responded that it would offend the Lord Bear to allow any bear into the village except on the basis of merit. The first bear asked, “But didn’t the Lord Bear tell us in the parable of the vineyard not to complain that the workers who devoted the most hours got paid the same as those who arrived later?”

Albino bear countered that the parable was “just a story.” He added that “the one thing I am certain of is that the Lord Bear always saw people as individuals, not as groups, so it would be a sin to encourage any particular kind of bear to come into the village.”

The first bear asked, “Didn’t our Lord Bear repeatedly condemn the Pharisees as a group for focusing on displays of piety rather than on helping needy bears?”

“That was then, this is now,” said the albino bear.

“What about the parable of the good Samaritan? The Lord Bear identified as our model of behavior someone from a group that was hated,” offered the first bear.

The albino bear dismissed that too as just a story: “Surely the Lord Bear would not want even Samaritans to be given any unfair advantage over others.”

The first bear inquired what the Lord Bear meant by saying that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

Albino bear grew angrier and again shouted for the first bear to sit down. He yelled that “it is not our fault the vast majority of the leaders of this village are polar bears. It is merely coincidence.”

“That 87 percent of us are polar bears, when the forest all around us is so much less . . . well, pale?” queried the first bear.

Albino bear insisted, “We hold our positions by merit alone!”

The first bear asked if albino bear had been born to grizzly bear parents, would he have ended up a leader in the village? “All your hard work in choosing to be born to polar bear parents, is that the merit of which you speak?”

Albino bear, now even more frustrated, began stuttering. “We . . . we . . . we have a diverse village. Possibly already too diverse.”

Albino bear caught his breath and outstretched his paws for emphasis: “Surely you all have watched our games of honeyball? We let grizzly bears and black bears play for us! Even lady bears! How can you claim we do not include everyone in the life of the village?”

Several bears applauded at what they considered a well-made point. But then the first bear added, “play for us without pay, that is . . . ”

Because the honeyball teams were considered sacred in the village, this last comment caused all the bears to start arguing among themselves, clawing and snapping their large teeth. I realized it was no longer safe for me to be there.

Before I headed back into the deep forest I paused to write out a marker that I hung from a nearby tree. I knew that when others came upon the site in the future they would wonder how it went from being such an important bear village to being decayed and abandoned.

I wrote: “In this place once was a great village of a species known as shortsighted albino bears. Like many other now-extinct creatures of this forest, the one thing they were most certain of is that there was no need for change.”

–David Schleicher is an attorney with offices in Waco, Houston and Washington, D.C.
This column originally appeared in the Waco Tribune-Herald on 1/20/2016, at A8]

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