Experiences, positive and negative, result in assumptions that drive policies, action and reactions, all of which have consequences for identity, for demonstrating—not just talking about—who we are as a people. A case in point is the current global immigration crisis. The purpose of this blog is to reflect and appreciate through the contemplation of images, so my intention here is neither to judge nor offer solutions to this complex issue. Instead, I reflect on the assumptions underlying the creation of laws that drive decisions, which in turn have consequences. Atticus Finch’s closing argument in To Kill A Mockingbird, illustrates the power of assumptions.

“The witnesses for the State…have presented themselves to you, in this court, in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption—the evil assumption—that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption one associates with minds of their caliber. Which gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson’s skin, a lie I do not have to point out to you. You know the truth, and the truth is this: Some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women—black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men. There is not one person in this courtroom who has not told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire.”

The science of whole systems and the fact of biological evolution support the long term viability of “inclusion.” Life evolves by creating variety, and despite the accommodations it requires, the dynamics of diversity propels evolution forward. Within all living systems there are cells that, for a variety of reasons, are or become toxic. In the human body, the immune system is the first line of defense in protecting the body as destructive cells grow and develop. The social equivalent of the immune system are law enforcement agencies. 

An unexamined, trial and error approach to managing immigrants, creates tension within the social body and stirs up resentment and anger beyond it. When a society fences itself off from diversity—and possibly destructive individuals—it severely limits it’s future potential, resources and resilience. Persons, humanely treated, have positive potential that can be cultivated. Aside from those few bent on destruction, the vast majority of immigrants are highly motivated to make things better. Their intention is constructive. Among them may be the next generation’s great contributors. The downside to an exclusion strategy is the limiting of diversity, an essential feature of biological evolution. Closing out also fences in. In time, the “insiders” limit their resources and capabilities to innovate, to create solutions to new challenges and adapt to change gracefully. 

A compassionate people view themselves as a whole, interdependent system composed of individuals capable of manifesting both light and shadow, angel and devil, good and evil. They devise laws and puts into place systems that attempt to minimize the darkness, but not at the expense of the light. When faced with a cancerous tumor, unless we give up, we don’t sit down and wall ourselves off from the world. We deal with the offending agents, try to contain them or remove them while continuing to function. It makes no sense to disadvantage the health and well-being of the whole, when threatened by a few. 

Of course, the world has changed dramatically since the days of Ellis Island where 450,000 people entered the United States in the first year. And of the 12 million admitted between 1892 and 1954, only 2 percent were deemed unfit to become citizens. Certainly, the American “melting pot” was more of a “cauldron,” but out of it came the scientific geniuses, captains of industry, artists, engineers, philosophers, educators and politicians—and you and me—who built and continue to build the most powerful free nation on earth. 

Destructive forces have always played, and continue to play a central role in biological, human and social evolution. It’s one of the ways Nature continuously renews itself. Now that humanity is largely in charge of evolution, it’s how we learn what works, what doesn’t, and how to manage the shadow aspect within all of us. Currently, we’re learning that a reactive posture, operating from fear, only concedes more power to the powers of destruction. It’s one of the ways they succeed and grow.

The measure of a people’s strength and greatness is not their potential to destroy. It’s the ability to create a context wherein diverse people can be safe, optimize their health and pursue an education that will help them realize their higher potentials and dreams. 

Breakdowns present an opportunity to shift direction, to make a fresh examination and choose more wisely by considering the consequences of policy and action before they’re implemented. With regard to making judgment about a group of people, I paraphrase Atticus’ response to the evil, shadow aspects of human nature, made by the prosecution and bystanders: we know the truth, and the truth is this: some people lie, some people are immoral, some people, irrespective of race, religion, national origin or worldview cannot be trusted. But this is a truth that applies to the entire human race. There is not one person who has not told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, who can be trusted 100%. It’s a perspective that encourages tolerance, fairness and compassion, qualities associated with light.


Begin challenging your assumptions. Your assumptions are the windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile or the light won’t come in.

Alan Alda

About This Image

I was walking by a schoolyard at lunchtime and had a camera with me. One of these kids came over and said “Hey mister! Take my picture.” I told him to get some of his friends together and I would. He did. And I did. That was in 1962.

My email address changed a while back. As a reminder, it’s:

You are invited to visit my portfolio site: David L. Smith Photography




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