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Seeing the humanity in one another

9.7. 2017 Posted By: The Mennonite 151 Times read

Ben Wideman is Campus Pastor for 3rd Way Collective at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. 

Cindy Lapp’s recent reflection on her experience at the Charlottesville, Virginia, protests stands out to me in a number of different ways, perhaps none greater than her emphasis on the need to see the humanity in those with whom we disagree. This seems so urgent in a moment where our country continues to polarize and divide because of our culture of fear.

My local context feels like a microcosm of the country. I’ve witnessed students shouting at their political and ideological counterparts, as well as glimmers on our campus that trends like White Nationalism and the Neo-Nazi movement is bubbling up here. We also are seeing Anarchist and extreme leftist movements. The Penn State and State College, Pennsylvania, community provide me and other people of faith with a unique opportunity to try and find some of that empathy and compassion that Cindy is calling for.

It can be easy for my long-residing neighbors to reject the student population as foolish young people who party too much and don’t respect their community or neighborhood. This perspective lacks empathy and it requires a shift so that we begin to see ourselves in these students. This slight adjustment allows us to offer empathy in ways that this community has sometimes fallen short of providing.

College can be a beautiful moment in time where many people begin to reflect on their own story and journey. They begin to start trying to make sense of how they fit in with the larger whole of humanity; not just their family system, but society at large.

College provides a chance to consider how you’ve been raised and the values you’ve accepted as truth, perhaps without personal reflection. College may be when you start to make sense of your calling and the pathway that has brought you to this moment. It is a period of life that can be heavy with the fear of the future, but also filled with potential optimism and possibility.

As I walk around campus in these early weeks, I try and look around at people’s faces. Does it seem like students are connecting? Are they discovering how they fit in with this community? How are they identifying and what signs are they projecting to let people know who they are?

On campus, it becomes essential not only to develop empathy and compassion, but also to realize that we depend on our community to help us navigate this world. We cannot do this alone. We cannot make sense of our place in the world without having people around us to love and support us, to affirm us and to offer guidance and hope. We do this by entering each other’s lives, which in turn allows us to discover some empathy. We do this by joining each other on the journey and experiencing what it means to live in authentic community. This is crucial if we truly believe that our calling is connected to a mutual relationship wherein we give and receive for the greater good of all. I believe this is at the core of how we live out God’s Kingdom here on earth.
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