Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Diversity and the Heart(land)

This past weekend I made a quick run (haha) up to Minneapolis. I had things to do: visit my parents, attend a forum for the Oromo population in Minneapolis led by The Advocates for Human Rights and Oromia Human Rights and Justice Council (and my second mother, Kathy S.), and visit the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to renew my relationships with my sixteenth-century boyfriends Tiziano Vecellio and Albrecht D├╝rer. I also had the good fortune to run with my college friend Ben, who is always happy to pound out a long run at a good pace. 

Indeed, it was on our 10 miles around the lakes that Ben and I discussed some issues close to both our hearts. While the central focus of our conversation was religion, the hour-and-twenty-five minute long conversation underscored and clarified the theme of the weekend--the value of diversity. Now, working in an institution of higher ed, the "D" word is a buzz word that is apt to be overused and interpreted simplistically. However, the activities in which I participated this weekend--and the stories to which I listened--renewed my strong belief that it is only through listening to a variety of viewpoints that one can truly become a more whole and empathetic human being. This is especially salient given that it was last Friday night that Congress was at the brink of shutting down the government due to the inability of our elected congresspeople to listen and hear each other. Certainly I have very strong views about politics and the budget (cut the budget by all means--get out of foreign wars, save funding for education and health and human services like Planned Parenthood!), but at the end of the day, our politicians need to be able to hear each other. I speak from experience in saying that this is a hard skill to cultivate. It is especially difficult for those of us trained in rational discourses--the law, philosophy, medicine, science--it is hard to forgo the a+b=c logic and allow for the opinion of the heart to weigh in.

For those of us to whom success comes easily--those of us who are driven, used to taking control, and who take steps towards reaching a goal, giving up control is extremely difficult. And yet it is precisely the ability to relinquish control that brings one closer to others, brings one peace, and creates peace. For some, giving this control to God is how they achieve the humility necessary to let that which is outside of their power, be. For others (myself included) it has been a process of recognizing that what I can control is my reaction to the things I can't control. In other words, I can relax. I can laugh. I can smile. I can recognize my anxiety, breathe into it, and let it go, knowing that from my place of privilege--itself a gift over which I really had no control--nothing truly bad is going to happen. I have internal, as well as external support systems.

Many people, however do not have the systems of support that I have, or the corresponding privileges. This was brought into high relief at the Oromo forum. Women and men told stories of the violent oppression, the murdering of children and family members, the fear of repercussion on those left behind in Ethiopia by the Ethiopian government that continues to haunt them even as they are new citizens of the United States. Talk about no control! And yet--what we do have control over is our actions and what we can do here. The mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Rybak, opened the forum by thanking the Oromo people for their cultural and economic contributions to Minneapolis. He was right to do so--they have grown small business in the city, and the cultural diversity present in Minneapolis schools is in part due to the many immigrants who have come to live in Minneapolis in the last 35 years--Hmong, Somalian, Oromo, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Persian (aka: Iranian)...We have all benefited from the oppression of their homelands. 

An urban center that appreciates and encourages immigrant inclusion and economic participation certainly provides cultural diversity and helps all of us learn how to live, work, and profit from one another culturally as well as economically. For some this same eye-and ear-opening to difference is (perhaps paradoxically) also found in faith communities. As Ben and I discussed, the fellowship to be found among those who come together week after week, year after year, is powerful. Moreover, intergenerational diversity, as well as racial and cultural diversity, is often an important part of this fellowship. In my view, the space to be, the space to give and accept love, to recognize the humanity in others, to support others, should not, however, only be the purview of institutionalized religion. These spaces should be created wherever we live, wherever we work, in schools, on buses, at the grocery store, getting one's mammogram at Walgreens, and even in the evilest of spaces (for me)-- the airport. The first step to creating this space of fellowship, empathy, and humanity, though, is to listen.

1 comment:

  1. Allison and I have been talking about this a lot as we've been trying to find a church in Evanston. We were really lucky in Lawrence to find a place that was open to LGBT people and also a supportive, vibrant community but we haven’t quite found the right place here.

    I agree with you that this sort of fellowship and mutual respect should be created in diverse spaces of social interaction. However, I find that it can be difficult to find places that promote sustained, growing relationships with other people in addition to the more fleeting encounters in airports, stores, etc.. Now, I would say that only my school and my regular gym class are conducive to creating such a space and school events rarely include Allison in any meaningful way. Institutionalized religion does not have to be the only game in town for this type of experience, but I don’t know that there are a lot of others that can boast the same opportunities for fellowship and support. What do you think is the best tactic to making individual instances (say, the forum) into prolonged or reoccurring events so that even deeper bonds can be formed?