The Strength (and Sensitivity) to do Good


Okay — don’t fade out on me now. I know some of you (the few that follow me regularly) look at the day’s post to see “is he writing about his class again” and ignore it if I am. Well, today I am, sort of, but you don’t need to fade out.  Because today’s post isn’t a regurgitation of one of the texts I read. Instead, this is a spin-off on the last posting for the class.

Our last assignment was to write an “examen” of what we learned.  The assignment was:

The examen gives you a chance to go back and look at events, behaviors, learning, etc., in your life. As a refresher, an examen is 1: an examination of conscience (as done daily by Jesuits) 2: a critical study (as of a writer’s work). This is now your opportunity to take a moment and go back and apply a critical eye to this material and your life. As a class, please discuss the elements that made up this class – social construction, intercultural communication, white privilege, race, gender, class, critical thinking, and leadership – and how these elements fit together for you. Did you have an “aha” moment? Did you share what you’ve learned with someone else? What will you “do” with this new knowledge?

So here is what I wrote:

Go forth into the world in peace,

Be of good courage,

Hold fast to that which is good,

Render to no one evil for evil.

Go forth into the world in love,

Strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak,

Help the afflicted, Honor all people,

Love and serve the Lord.

Rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit,

Go forth into the world in peace.

In peace.

This is a well-known historic creed/benediction/blessing of the Christian faith – which is why I didn’t run into it until College Choir, Houghton College, at age 19. I used this statement on the “About” page of my blog as a purpose statement to theme my posts.

But what does this mean? How do we know what is good? The readings we went through these eight weeks talked a lot about things that people do and suggested a lot of things around us, and a part of our personal identities that have the potential to be doing damage to others, just by our being what we are. Our class, race, sex, gender, age, ability, etc., all have this potential to do damage to others by how we express them. Sometimes it seems like it is all a rather dark indictment on everything we might try to do or be. It can tend to make us fainthearted and weak rather than giving us the courage to strengthen the fainthearted and weak.

I often found myself reacting quite strongly to these indictments that seemed to make strength itself almost evil (upper classes are always oppressor, white privilege is always oppressive, being dominant is by default to be an oppressor, etc.). Where is the concept of strength in the service of good? What of the virtues of humility, meekness, gentleness – each of which requires a core of strength, properly governed for the benefit of others?

Where I think I found the centering moment of the class was in the intersectivity of all the various factors. Until I saw all these various elements, I had not realized the multitude of ways in which I was empowered, or disempowered, and the ways that I was empowered that I had been trained socially to ignore or deny that power, instead of express it and use that power for good.

I think of the example that is most close to the surface as to why I started this class, and why I chose the communications major – my desire for better communication and understanding of the intercultural people I work with in India (and now, I realize, even in my own office). My experiences with them, reinforced in this class, lead me to be more of who I am, more of those intersective personas with them, stronger and more confident, as an encouragement to them to be more themselves, more empowered, instead of reining in myself, or playing a guilt on myself for being the bad oppressor. Using strength for good.

And I have seen this encouraged by my friends in India, too. They don’t want me “dumbing down” my excessive vocabulary with them, for example. Instead we use it as a way to learn and grow about each other. And I don’t want them “dumbing down” themselves for me, shortening their names for ease of the American, for example.

This intersectivity has also made me more aware of the various groups that the people I interact with are a part of, and using that perspective for greater empowerment of them.

I think intersectivity teaches us to apply the same concept in defining someone as we learned about disabilities. It isn’t a “disabled person” but a “person with disabilities”. Instead of someone being a black woman, they are a person who happens to be black, middle-aged, female, etc. These are things about them, parts of their person they draw upon, but not something that defines and limits them. Subconsciously that was my mode of thought prior to this class. After the class I am finding that hasn’t changed. What has changed is how I am able to do it while being more consciously aware of all those elements that make the person up. Intersectivity helps me to acknowledge more about the person, while still treating  them as a person, instead of a mere member of a group.


So that was what I turned in.  Now for a few, final comments.

I learned a lot from this class. There were a lot of good thoughts in the readings, buried amidst a lot of politically correct gobbledygook (as I elucidated in the posts many of you ignored).

I noticed some dangerous PC backslapping going on at certain points between some students, as they recited the stuff they felt they were supposed to observe about themselves. Academic groupthink is a dangerous thing. Fortunately, it didn’t dominate the class.

So, I will give you all a break from this sort of stuff, until my next class this summer.


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