America of tomorrow: less melting pot, more bento box



February 8, 2017

Traditional Bento Box

For decades America has been growing more and more polarized, especially politically. Pew Research sums it up with a simple graphic showing how far apart each side is now compared to the mid 1990s (and their current data pre-dates the 2016 election – we know it’s worse now).

But a cultural change is getting underway and it will impact life in America for the next twenty or more years. And, it’s a good thing.

The two drivers of this shift are the Millennial generation and America’s growing diversity (and we’re talking about more than race here).

First, at the same time America appears to be ripping itself apart politically, we’re seeing the rise of the “we”-minded Millennial generation, those between age 16 and 34 in 2017. Their mindset is all about working together, collaborating, and focusing on the common good, not individualism. Millennials are seemingly hard-wired to be all about community. 

In our work, we’ve learned that practically all 84 million Millennials believe they are “special” (thanks to a daily reminder from Mom and Dad). They also firmly believe everyone is indeed special – in their own way. In a world where everyone is special, everyone has value, and everyone has a place.

This mindset gives one hope that the polarization pendulum will swing back towards the middle.

Second, in the last several decades, American society has grown more and more diverse. What once were binary choices are now multiple choice:

  • Men/Women are just end points on a fluid gender continuum
  • Old/Young has given way to 4 or more generations
  • Race and ethnicity choices come in at least 33 Baskin-Robbins-like flavors
  • Sexual orientation can be men, women, or simply “yes.”

Even social uprisings are no longer for/against a particular thing, but for/against a multitude of causes and issues. All in the same march—protesting separate issues, but doing so together.

These two factors—the emerging Millennial collective-self culture, plus growing societal diversity, add up to a future that will be all about pluralism

Pluralism is “a condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist.” More than that, pluralism reflects the America we have become.

America the bento box means everybody can come—every identity, race, nationality, religion, income level, mindset, orientation, and so on. Everyone will find a place to belong in the bento box.

Bento boxes are pluralistic. Everything has its place. In a pluralistic America bento box, we don’t think there will be much melting. But—and it’s a big BUT—as we come to accept that we’re all in the box together, we’ll start getting along better. 

Here are two recent examples of pluralism, and how it can unite us:

From the NFL, this spot ran in the Super Bowl.

This second example comes from TV 2 in Denmark, and depicts how our bento boxes can be re-arranged to show that in the end, there's just "us."

America's bento box pluralism will start in cities first, where Millennials and diversity are everywhere. Then it will spread throughout the fruited plain, which remain somewhat homogeneous.

So says us. What say you? 

Next Week: 15-Minute Livable Communities