Dirck Vorenkamp Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
Our community is currently facing a number of challenges: we are implementing new GERs and housing policies, searching for a new president, questioning the calendar, and so on. These are complex issues and there are understandable differences of opinion on how to solve them. Accordingly, this seems like a good time to pause a moment and consider our methods. While doing so we might note there is a sense in which the specific resolution of these matters is less important than the way we approach them. To understand why, consider the question, “How shall we proceed?”One possibility is to approach discussion as though those with opinions different from our own are somehow misinformed or willfully resistant to more reasonable alternatives. Certainly this factor may be at work on occasion but starting and continuing a discussion on this basis seems fundamentally unhealthy for our community: it is hard to imagine such discussions will yield the sort of results we all desire.
In contrast, suppose we simply lay aside our suspicions and take the bold step of assuming everyone else also has positive intentions and wants what is best for the whole community? Even further, we might approach discussions by seriously entertaining the possibility we are personally misinformed and/or mistaken. Certainly one key to this is not to focus on what others can or even should do, but rather to take upon ourselves a burden to set the tone of discourse. In contrast to the above, this approach might facilitate long-term communal health even through strong, ongoing disagreement and debate.
Debate of this sort enhances communal well-being by constantly reaffirming a commitment to hear all views, however repetitious, tiresome, or otherwise unwelcome. In such cases we affirm our commitment not by simply enduring the tiresome in the interests of being polite, but rather by truly listening to what the other is saying. Furthermore, since such discussions proceed on a presumption of good will, they might also include a willingness to sacrifice personal gain for communal benefit.
There is no doubt our community is dedicated to these forms of discussion and that is precisely why it is not just beneficial, but perhaps even essential we occasionally reconsider them. In addition to providing an opportunity to reaffirm our commitments to the community, as well as acknowledge those of our friends and colleagues, such considerations might also remind us “Lawrence” means a set of unfolding experiences as much as any particular place. We are all currently constructing those experiences and so bear a responsibility for building something positive. Of course, we must continually dare to do so as in the end, these moments are Lawrence. Perhaps, after all, this is the biggest challenge we face.