I was on an airplane flying home to Houston a couple weeks back, and a guy who looked roughly like me in life stage, dress, and carriage struck up a conversation. He learned I was a writer by trade, learned I was interested in issues of class and inequality, and immediately launched this missile:

“You know what makes all of us who we are, what shapes our lens on the world and expands or limits our life possibilities?
Culture. Not skin colour, not money. In this country today, the cultures that form us are the cultures that define our futures.”

My head snapped to attention. Here was someone thinking along more supple lines than the usual inequality voices.

This is Anne Snyder writing in Humane Pursuits. It’s a great insight that culture is the bedrock for much of our social and political conversation.

An example of culture as bedrock is how thoroughly the cultural concept of the Protestant Work Ethic still shapes American attitudes, despite Protestantism itself having evolved in fundamental ways.

This reminds me of the concept of “diversity of thought,” which a friend of mine introduced me to years ago. In short, the concept that diversity can be a bedrock concept if it’s rooted in the strategic sense of one’s thought processes rather than the tactical sense of politics or appearance.

I think of both culture and diversity as “ways of being,” and I think that’s also what Anne Snyder’s airline neighbor is speaking to.