Categorized | Viewpoints

Spiritual life broadens academic horizons

A parable from Midrash (commentary or interpretation of Jewish Scripture) speaks of a group of people travelling together in a boat. One member of the group begins to drill a hole in the boat and is confronted for his actions. His response: “What concern is it of yours? Am I not drilling under my own place?” A fellow traveler points out, “But you will flood the boat for us all!” (Vayikra Rabba 4:6). In many ways as human beings, we are all in the same boat -— but we don’t all see or experience life in the same way. When we come to understand each other, we become more capable of respecting and valuing each other’s needs and personal dignity. Our differences are blessings, for there is immense value in learning from different perspectives. But without understanding, that value may not be realized and differences might in fact become a point of conflict.

Co-existence implies an ability to tolerate different viewpoints, cultures and religions. That tolerance is the bedrock of the basic respect necessary to live and learn comfortably in an academic community and in the world at large. However, as the goals of an academic community include the broadening of horizons and the experience of different perspectives, a successful learning community requires the development of more than just the spirit of co-existence. It requires an effort towards acceptance and understanding. Acceptance is not just about being respectful of differences, but also recognizing that other perspectives and backgrounds are okay and acceptable. It implies a validation of worth and value in a person or a group that may be very different from you. A further step still is understanding — coming to know and process the concepts that make up differing perspectives and backgrounds.

When we make the effort to accept and understand, we create the means to live together in a way that fosters meaningful mutual growth as well as positive co-existence.

The goals for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) include promoting the values of diversity, inclusion, global engagement and social justice. Towards that end, CDI aims to help students articulate systems that create and sustain inequality and advocate for themselves and others. Student groups can help facilitate the effort towards acceptance and understanding that is the foundation for inclusiveness and equality by actively seeking to bring together students from various religions, cultures and identities. Such collaborative programming helps students value diverse identities, understand the way identities may intersect and stand up for the acceptance and well-being of all.

When you provide people with an opportunity to get to know each other and collaborate as equals you often find that, in the words of Maya Angelou, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” This realization, this process of demystification, is a part of the process of developing mature, contributing members of a peaceful, fruitfully interconnected world. And it is a part of any successful academic community to prepare students to be leaders in that world.

Rabbi Dario Hunter, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at DHunter@wooster.edu.

 

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