David Jolly: Embracing Diversity of Thought

When I arrived at Emory in summer 1990, I joined a freshman class orientation in which the theme for the week was “Diversity: Our Strength.” Still in my teens, coming from a small rural town, and well before the advent of the real information age, I had never been exposed to such a celebration of differences. It was new to me. 

David Jolly wearing a blue jacket, a blue shirt, and a dark, red tie

David Jolly 94C

Despite the important value of the message, what my 17-year-old ears wrongly heard in that orientation was that my personal convictions—cultural, religious, or otherwise—were now less true upon arriving on campus than they were in the community from which I came.  

What I missed in that moment was that celebrating diversity was not a zero-sum proposition that would strip me of my personal convictions. Instead, celebrating diversity was about the communal strength that emerges from valuing everyone’s individual story, their personal belief system, recognizing their truth with equity. It took me a long time to fully appreciate this. 

I spent most of those years at Emory promoting and defending conservative causes, and politically, the Republican party. My political journey continued into adulthood and I even had the life opportunity to serve as a United States congressman, a Republican representative from the state of Florida. 

About three years ago, I left Republican politics and the party itself. And what I discovered in becoming untethered from a major political party was that I was finally free to embrace solutions to our nation’s most pressing problemsregardless of where those solutions fell on the left-right ideological spectrum.  

I was presented, in a very real way, with the remarkable power of diversity. In this case, the diversity of thought, of ideologyof life stories. I was able to see with a new perspective how rigid partisanship had created shifting and disparate impacts on different constituencies, and I was able to embrace a view of politics that unapologetically gave worth and value to every opinion. 

As the nation today emerges from a remarkably difficult chapter in public health, in culture, and yes in politics, what I have discovered is that the most effective way forward for the latter may be to reconsider how we approach our politics altogether. 

We have trained ourselves to always approach politics from an ideological perspective. It is reflexive. But suppose we rejected that paradigm. Instead of seeking our personal political affiliations based strictly upon shared ideology, suppose we began to make our political affiliations based upon shared values. 

I now lead an organization trying to do just that, the Serve America Movement (SAM). Whether SAM is ultimately a successful vehicle for transforming our nation’s politics, I believe our model should be.  

We are deliberately and truly a big tent, welcoming moderates, progressives, and conservatives into the same coalition. We do not dictate what one’s ideology must be, but we instead ask our members and our endorsed candidates to coalesce around the shared values of problem solving, democracy protection through electoral reform, transparency, and accountability. We want to solve issues like immigration, health care, and gun violence with intellectual honesty and in ways that reflect the views of the broadest number of Americans. 

As a nation, the diversity of our competing ideologies is one of the greatest blessings of American libertyOur competing ideologies are not what has broken our politics. What has broken our politics is the inability of our existing political platforms, arguably our political parties, to accommodate our competing ideologies. 

But while my path may have taken me to independent politics, that need not be the journey we each take to move our politics to a better place. The political party that successfully builds a platform genuinely welcoming all ideologies, gathering around principles that give value to our political diversity, could very well be the party that becomes a governing majority for decades to come. It could be one of our two major parties or a new, emerging coalition. 

Diversity is indeed our strength. And where celebrating our diversity at critical inflection points in our nation’s history has led us to strengthen our national bond and to emerge from some of our darkest chapters stronger and more unified, let us now realize that by embracing and celebrating our diversity of political thought, by welcoming each other’s ideology instead of dismissing it, we in fact just might overcome this most challenging chapter of today’s politics as well. 

David Jolly is a former U.S. representative from the state of Florida and currently the executive chair of the Serve American Movement. 

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