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Diversity Perversity

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Most of us, when we think of the word “perverse,” think of sexuality.  But it is really much broader than that.  Merriam-Webster gives the simple definition:

wrong or different in a way that others feel is strange or offensive

I say that fits this story from the University of Oregon about some construction in the student union:

Since 1986, the University of Oregon has housed a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. in the lobby of the Erb Memorial Union. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream…” […]

Laurie Woodward, the Director of the Student Union said that when she approached the union with the question of if they wanted to keep the current MLK quote or supplement a new one, one of the students asked, “Does the MLK quote represent us today?”

Sophomore architecture student Mia Ashley — who wasn’t on the board — understands this reasoning.

“Diversity is so much more than race. Obviously race still plays a big role. But there are people who identify differently in gender and all sorts of things like that,” Ashley said.

So, because King used a single descriptor instead of some sort of laundry list one of the greatest bits of oration in the English language is deemed inadequate?  The idea that underlies the quote is not enough…Or is this really a rejection of the underlying idea because, of course, who wants to be judged on their character?  That’s one of the problems about messing with language – it is pretty hard to do that without messing with ideas as well.

Perversity seems to be the way of things these days.  Good ideas get somehow warped beyond recognition and end up just wrong.  How does that happen?  I think it happens because we have set ourselves adrift.  I think of Proverbs:

Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before stumbling.
It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly
Than to divide the spoil with the proud.
He who gives attention to the word will find good,
And blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.
The wise in heart will be called understanding,
And sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it,
But the discipline of fools is folly.
The heart of the wise instructs his mouth
And adds persuasiveness to his lips.
Pleasant words are a honeycomb,
Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
A worker’s appetite works for him,
For his hunger urges him on.
A worthless man digs up evil,
While his words are like scorching fire.
A perverse man spreads strife,
And a slanderer separates intimate friends.
A man of violence entices his neighbor
And leads him in a way that is not good.
He who winks his eyes does so to devise perverse things;
He who compresses his lips brings evil to pass.
A gray head is a crown of glory;
It is found in the way of righteousness.

We are prideful, thinking our feelings and our perspective matter more than anything else.  We do not tether ourselves to great books or common understandings.  We no longer value the gray head as a crown, but rather see it as a sign of irrelevancy – yet another indicator of pride.

I love that in this same passage is the way to restore ourselves, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

The world offers us perversity and divisiveness.  We must offer it words as sweet as honey.


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