By: Max Bruns ~Advertisement Manager~
“We are Xavier Musketeers. We are unique individuals who come together in the spirit of St. Ignatius, to learn together, to serve together and we will succeed in changing the world together. We act with integrity, justice and generosity. All for one and one for all.”
These are the ringing words of the Xavier Student Commitment that all first-year students will face when they join the Xavier Family.
Loaded with language that demonstrates intentional community, it is clear that Xavier cares about creating a space for its students to be united. The Jesuit tradition, started by St. Ignatius in the 1500s, stresses the importance of living for and with others and striving for service rooted in justice and love.
As an incoming first year, entering a community of about 4,000, these words may be intimidating. A first year may find him or herself asking, “What about my cultural context? How am I supposed to care about kinship while maintaining conviction?”
There is a lot of speculation that higher education and college campus environments are purposefully liberal in their social policy, so these questions may be of even greater concern for those first-years from conservative backgrounds. It’s not surprising that the conservative demographic feels attacked, especially with the current political climate.
So where is the disconnect between kinship and personal context? How does one band one’s own opinions together with his or her neighbor’s in order to effect change? The answer is proper and progressive dialogue; the problem is that a lot of people don’t know how to engage in that way.
The first step to cultivating proper and progressive dialogue is going through a rigorous process of self-awareness known as checking your privilege. This means systematically going through all of your identifying characteristics, such as race, creed, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender expression, etc. and admitting to yourself the benefits from identifying as such.
For example, I am a white male. As a result, collective systems of oppression through colonization and imperialism have consistently given my demographic an advantage in terms of social hierarchy, ability to own property, freedom, etc. If I were a black male, this would not be a privilege that I had inherently; thus, going into a progressive and proper dialogue, I am expected to recognize that I inherently have certain privileges simply because I am a white male.
Checking your privilege is hard, but the underlying message is that life isn’t fair. Effective change happens when the people benefiting from this fact recognize it and actively work toward leveling the playing field, in conversation and in action.
Thus, the second step to cultivating proper and progressive dialogue is making the issue you discuss personal. If I get into a discussion with a conservative friend about politics and hear a phrase like, “Hillary is a seasoned politician. I just don’t trust her,” I am immediately wary. Spouting rhetoric like that doesn’t create a space for discussion; it does, however, call to mind all the horrible things the media has ever said about Hillary Clinton, and if we’re playing the trust game, I certainly don’t trust all of those things.
If I were having a discussion with a Trump supporter, that person should be wary of my opinion until I can point to concrete examples that have influenced my views. For example, I believe Trump’s political rise has been apocalyptic because as a gay man, he threatens my freedom to marry and freely be who I am in the country I was born.
The final step to proper and progressive dialogue, and for me this is arguably the most important, is active listening. Active listening means demonstrating that you are hearing what the other person says. You are setting up your own responses by repeating what was just said; if you repeat it wrong, they’ll correct you and you’ll know you misunderstood them.
Active listening means engaging directly in what the individual has to say, not what you believe they mean, and it takes a lot of patience. But the more you do it, the more humbled you feel, and humility is a key ingredient to understanding. After all, you can’t win a discussion, so you might as well strive to understand what the other person has to say.
Incoming first-years, don’t be firebrands for causes you don’t fully understand. Before you can fight the man, you have to understand him, and before you can do that, you have to listen to him. The three steps I’ve identified are a good start, but the most important thing to remember is that proper and progressive dialogue fosters a climate wherein change can happen, but people will be turned off if all you want to do is shout and never listen.