Accepting our Differences

Maya Lin grew up in Athens, Ohio.  Her parents immigrated to the United States, but Maya was born in the U.S.  Maya never thought much about her cultural heritage growing up.

While at Yale, Maya entered a public design competition.  There were 1422 entries, but Maya’s was very different.  The submissions were anonymous to encourage the review panel to value the design concept over the reputation of the designer.

Rather than a design featuring an image or a grand looking structure, Maya’s design was simply a black granite wall.  Maya’s design was accepted and has become one of the most treasured memorials in America:  The Vietnam War Memorial.

The acceptance of Maya’s design was controversial.  Ross Perot, a candidate for President, called her an “egg roll.”  The fact that the judges didn’t know her ethnicity or her lack of experience contributed to the selection of a design that has changed the way we think of memorials.

As a nation, we have long struggled with the acceptance of differences in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other ways to imagine how others are different from us.  Those who visit the Vietnam War Memorial are often brought to tears as they see the vast number of names of those who died as a result of the Vietnam conflict.  What they don’t realize is that many of those names represent persons whose backgrounds are very different from theirs.  We can treasure and weep at the sacrifices others made for our nation, but yet we can’t seem to accept our differences.

What’s remarkable is that when we really get to know those who are different from ourselves, we not only accept those differences but embrace them.  Accepting our differences seems to be a generational issue.  Younger generations seem to be much more accepting of our differences than others.

We will learn to accept our differences when we realize that everyone who aspires to live a purposeful life subscribes to the same set of values and virtues.  Our values and virtues are not unique to us but are shared by everyone.  Those who died for us in the Vietnam War and other wars were not fighting for just one type of person.  They were fighting for the concept of an America where everyone is valued.

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“I refuse to allow any man-made differences to separate me from any other human beings.”  -Maya Angelou (American poet and civil rights activist)

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