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Modeling Civil Discourse for the Common Good

 

Self-Awareness: In the midst of an interaction or conversation am I feeling defensive or uncomfortable? Can I slow down and notice if I am angry, fearful or uncomfortable before I respond? 

Seek to Understand: How can I learn more about this person’s life experience, circumstances, and values that frame his or her point of view? Can I listen deeply to another’s viewpoint that may be vastly different from my own? Can I imagine that I alone do not have the truth or see the entire picture without the perspectives of others?

Look for the Good: Being a Man for Other means looking for the inherent goodness in another person and even give them the benefit of the doubt regarding their viewpoint. Can I call to mind that each person has sacred worth and value? 

Nonviolent Response: Anytime we harm or devalue ourselves or others in our thoughts, words, or presence, this is a form of violence. While violence and force may be quicker, in the end they can fail to fundamentally resolve problems. When I respond to another, is my tone harsh, aggressive, and demeaning, or calm, patient, and loving?

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An ominous shadow has cast itself over our global community, as of late. There has been numbing violence in Orlando, Dallas, Nice, Syria, Iraq, Istanbul, Japan, Baton Rouge, and St. Louis. This violence has crossed lines of race, sexuality, religion, developmental abilities, and gender, not to mention politics as the U.S. presidential election seems to reveal a degenerating civil decency.

We have the opportunity here, at Xavier, to model another way. How can we talk about these difficult and painful topics without dehumanizing the “other?” How might we learn to deeply listen to another's viewpoint and seek to understand where they are coming from, instead of seeing them as a perceived enemy? The words of Abraham Lincoln offer consolation and a reminder to return to our shared humanity when he wrote, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” Or at the moment when Bob Dole conceded the presidency to Bill Clinton in 1996 and Dole’s crowd launched insults about Clinton, Dole quickly stated, “No, wait a minute…I’ve said repeatedly in this campaign that the president is my opponent, not my enemy. And I wish him well, and I pledge my support in whatever advances the cause of a better America. That's what the race is about.”

What are we Xavier Saints about fundamentally? Before we can even delve into talking about these sensitive social issues, we need to have a discussion about the way we talk, about the way we use our words for good or for ill. What would it be like to see every conversation as a spiritual practice? When we speak about issues that bring out differing viewpoints, how can we develop the practice to first listen deeply to another instead of jumping in to defend ourselves? Can we take a long loving look at the person in front of us, their values, their perspective, and just listen?

As an Ignatian community, we do share standards of decency, communal respect, and mutual care for one another. We know that at the very heart of Catholic Social Teaching is the call to reverence each person’s human dignity. This call, rooted in the compelling scripture passage from Genesis, emphasizes that we each bear the image of God. And thus, if we each bear that image, can we imagine that our “perceived” enemy or anyone who holds a very different viewpoint than ourselves, as Christ before me?

As we begin this school year may we become more mindful of examining the underlying dynamics in the classroom, setting up a strong and safe foundation by modeling and teaching healthy dialogue to our students. We know we make this commitment because of our shared Jesuit values of being “Open to Growth,” “Intellectually Competent,” “Religious,” “Loving,” and “Committed to Doing Justice.” We want to take up this experiment of adopting common classroom guidelines, that fosters dialogical tools, because we know we are shaping leaders for the future, leaders who first seek to understand, refrain from dehumanizing language, and speak the truth with love.  

 

XAVIER RE-OPEN