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In My Opinion
"If You Can Make It There..."
Wednesday, January 16, 2013 • Posted January 18, 2013

I've been watching a PBS "American Experience" series recently about New York City. The program follows the history of the city all the way from its early founding as a Dutch colony (purchased not for $24, but for 120 guilders), on through to just after 9/11.

It was interesting to discover that New York, unlike many of the other British, French and Spanish colonies on the American continent at the time, was founded on the doctrine of commerce. While Massachusetts had the Puritans, Rhode Island the Catholics and Pennsylvania the Quakers, New York City had fur traders, merchants and ship captains. The colony had been in existence for over a decade before they even bothered to build a church!

The Dutch discovered very early that they could not persuade enough of their own native citizens to move to the colony of New Amsterdam, and the Dutch West Indies Company (a business division of the Dutch East Indies Company) instructed Peter Stuyvesant and the other leaders to allow immigration of other groups to help meet the labor needs of a growing settlement.

So they started allowing the Britsh and the French to settle. The Africans weren't given a choice in the matter and provided the bulk of the heavy labor, including building of jetties, piers, aqueducts and fortifications. Over the years, the Dutch ceded the colony to the British who were surrounding them, and New York was born.

With the British, a new influx began from the Empire: Scots and Irish began flooding into the growing city. In the early and mid 19th century, French, Russian and Slovakian emigres added to the din of what had become the largest city on earth. At the end of the century, the mix began to include more southern Europeans: Italians, Greeks and Jewish immigrants from Spain and South America. The end of the 1800s and beginning of 1900s saw a resurgence of Irish immigration.

New York City, the melting pot of the world, also became the experimentation for how an urban area can balance differing ethnologies, religious beliefs and cultural beliefs. In the process, Manhattan and the outer boroughs showed the world that not only can people of wildly differing backgrounds and beliefs live together, they can make that stew of humanity work to drive forward some of the most innovative construction and commercial projects ever attempted by men. The Brooklyn Bridge, the subway system, Central Park, the Erie Canal, skyscrapers, social services and more all found their genesis and growth due to the requirements of dealing with a rapidly growing population of wildly disparate peoples.

Along the way, there were spectacular failures: the purge of the friendly Indian tribes in the area, race riots between Africans and Irish, deplorable living conditions and working conditions culminating in the Triangle Shirtwaist disaster, and, of course, 9/11. Yet, New Yorkers have shown that their experiment in urbanity has propelled the rest of the world forward. Their willingness to take the risks (whether through innovation or coercion) have allowed much of the rest of the world to pick and choose from their history and to adapt their lessons to our own cities and our own lives.

The one overriding theme of the New York program was that diversity leads us to innovate and to grow. When we surround ourselves with people who look different, people who think differently and people who act differently, it challenges us to find the best in all of ourselves.

I thought about that lesson when I went to San Angelo on Saturday for church training. There were Methodists in attendance from Mertzon down to Bracketville. All very different; but, all united in common goals. Though they were extremely different, it was their desire to serve God that drew them together and used their differences to improve the church.

Look around your own lives and don't be afraid to welcome in those who seem most different from yourself. In the process, you will find the best parts of both of you.

It’s all just my opinion.

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