A call for being connected with others who are unlike you

In the news as I write this are, among other things, these stories: The Dylann Roof trial for racially motivated murders, the Yazidis being killed in Iraq, the Rohingyas being persecuted in Myanmar and a call to build a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep out immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

All involve the hatred of people who have a different background and beliefs from those around them, by those who want to kill, hurt or exclude them. There are many, many more similar stories from all over the world. Hatred seems to be everywhere. What can be done about it?

I am a teacher and teach larger enrollment classes at Penn State. My classes are very diverse and include students from many different countries and cultures, who have very different beliefs. One of the great pleasures of teaching such a diverse group from all over the world is figuring out how to communicate well in spite of problems of language and culture, and connect with the individual student in all of her or his uniqueness.

This means recognizing, not ignoring, their culture of origin and accepting it as a part of who they are. (A young man from Korea and a young woman from Malaysia usually speak to their teachers in very different ways. It should be expected.) And moving beyond that to the individuals who are both similar to the other students with a common cultural background and different from them.

That means caring for them, not hating them. Embracing them, not excluding them. And acknowledging the pain that may have been a part of their families’ history.

My first teaching job was in Detroit and many of my students were from working class families who were first or second generation immigrants. One that particularly comes to mind was a student whose family was Armenian. At the time, the early 1960s, the Armenian genocide during World War I was not widely acknowledged. I knew about it and talked with him about it. That meant that for him it was not invisible and denied. The reality and pain of the loss were made real and acknowledged. It also connected us in a very deep way.

The recognition of racism and its history was also important for the black students who were in my classes. My acknowledging that discrimination exists has meant so much to them (and to me).

Both became my model for making a spiritual connection with my students and with others I have gotten to know in the various communities in which I have lived. Another part of this spiritual connection is getting know more about each individual and what gives their life meaning. It can be religious faith, family, friends, social class, a calling or some of the pleasures of life, such as food, sports, games, music or pets — something other than schoolwork or a job.

This deepens, expands and extends my connection with each individual and broadens my knowledge of the human spirit – an invaluable gift.

And an answer to hatred.

Jerrold Maddox is a faculty member of the Penn State College of Arts and Architecture. He grows vegetables for The Faith Center in Bellefonte and participates in Interfaith Initiative Centre County: InterfaithInitiativeCC@ hotmail.com