Recently, I was honored to give the keynote speech at the first Business of Diversity luncheon for Oregon. Our office of Corporations and Small Business Advocacy participated with 475 other business leaders and supporters from around the country. These business leaders crossed political, geographical, racial, and gender differences to talk about how we work together to recognize diversity in the workplace, and how we might leverage our unique perspectives to drive Oregon's economy forward.
As Oregon's secretary of state, my job is to represent all Oregonians with respect to the agency divisions I manage - Elections, Corporations, Audits, and Archives. Every day, I learn from the employees who serve in these divisions and from the citizens I meet as I visit cities across Oregon.
As diversity is a conversation people are having more and more regularly in offices, at dinner parties, and across social media, I would like to share my personal perspective on diversity.
Growing up in a tumultuous time in our nation's' history and in a hard-scrabble community where the racial divide was deep, the backdrop of my childhood was pretty homogeneous. If you've ever seen the show "All In the Family," my dad was Archie Bunker and my mom was Edith. It was a low economic community. My two best friends wound up on drugs and in jail, and I wound up flying helicopters in Vietnam.
I share this piece of my story because, while growing up, we were never taught that acceptance of people who were different was of any importance. It was not until I was in Vietnam, serving alongside soldiers from every ethnic and religious background, that I began to understand there was a much bigger world outside the community where I grew up.
When I came home from the trauma of Vietnam, I was so fortunate to find my wife, Cathy, and I was able to turn inward to find faith and purpose in life. Those things saved me. From my faith, I've learned that it's critical to set aside the prejudices of the past and accept, serve and love others unconditionally.
So, what does this have to do with diversity at this moment in history? Our faiths, families and life experiences shape who we become. However, I've learned each of us must keep learning and growing, testing the limits of our personal biases and prejudices, and reaching enlightened conclusions when we can. Most importantly, the richness of our diversity means we can disagree without becoming disagreeable.
The goals of true diversity are realized when each of us treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves, while respecting each other's differences, and basing our relationships on where we can find agreement, not dissent.
My commitment to all Oregonians is to keep growing and learning, and I appreciate the grace the citizens of this state have given me in that I have the room to explore new ideas in my role as our secretary of state. My goal is to promote liberty and justice and opportunity for all.