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Navigating Differences with Grace

The reality of the virus, whose name is now a household word, continues to teach us many lessons. We are learning first-hand what advantages virtual interaction is bringing us, just as we are reaffirming the value of physical interaction. We have a felt sense now of what virtual presence and embodied presence offer to education, to say nothing of human and Christian growth. With this in mind, it is my fervent hope that you are reading this in the context of in-person contact as educators, administrators and animators in the educational community, for my reflection has to do with what we can almost only do when we are in the same space, namely, navigate our differences.

During the days and months that we were apart we found ourselves trying to navigate our differences virtually. I am not at all sure we made much progress.

It’s timely then that Young Lasallians worldwide have invited us into a deeper reflection of how to promote peace in our lives and communities. One of the core principles of Lasallian ministry is promoting respect for others—it is, regardless of the specifics of our job description, an essential contribution we make to the human and Christian growth of the young people entrusted to us.

I’d like to build on suggestions psychological therapist Tasha Dorsey offers as our young people navigate differences at various levels: cultural, religious, political, friends, family and community. Young people need more than “respect one another” bromides to grow; they need practices that help them self-regulate the intense emotions they experience.

  • Invite them to reflect and take some time to reflect on your feelings about the other person and their behavior. Invite them to “be honest with yourself, know your feelings and ask whether this is what you want to act upon.”
  • Encourage them to speak to your trusted friends or mentors. “Share what’s happening interiorly and let them know what you are thinking and feeling. Ask them to help you look at what is happening and give you their perspective.”
  • Guide them in being open to people and their ways, to be curious about someone or some group rather than judgmental. Show them how it looks to be curious and inquisitive and open. More, guide them in the art of conversation; show them the difference between debate and appreciative inquiry.
  • Insist that people interact in-person, to take the risk of encountering others on their terms. Point out that virtual communication takes you only so far, that our devices can start a relationship but cannot sustain it. “Let others tell you their story so you don’t find yourself telling your story of them.”

The Russian writer Ivan Turgenev tells a short story of a man who is approached by a beggar in the street. The beggar is disheveled, his clothes worn and tattered. He asks him, “I haven’t eaten for two days. Can you give me money for food?” The man replies, “I am sorry my brother. Forgive me, but I have no money to give you.” The beggar replies, “That’s all right. You have given me something more precious than money. You called me Brother.” It’s a valuable lesson we want to convey about the risk of encounter. Maybe we cannot give the other specifically what is needed, but we can give one another our empathy and desire to be family.

Differences will always emerge between us. We want young people to know that and not fear that or see that as the end of relationship. We bring the life of Jesus to them as the human way forward: the human presence of God who always remained in relationship. We want them to navigate the differences, that is, to see them as rough waters that inevitably come up and to steer beyond them to our shared humanity where we can enjoy the joys of peace.

I realize none of these initiatives do anything dramatic—they don’t beat our swords into plowshares or usher in the reign of God. They are simple ways to take concrete steps toward peace. They are humble steps that help young people to find in one another the very love they find in themselves. In our Lasallian spirit, we could say they are another way of honoring the living presence of Jesus in one another’s hearts to the same depth that we enjoy that presence in our own.

Learn more about how you can get involved in the 2021 International Lasallian Days for Peace >

From the General Councilor’s Reflection Page
By Brother Timothy Coldwell, FSC

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