January 9, 2011

This morning I drove to Norfolk, CT to work, listening to Krista Tippett’s NPR show “On Being,” described as a “spacious conversation about the big questions at the center of life.” (For those of you who know me, I’m really big into asking the essential and cage-rattling questions. So now, I may need to be up by 7 a.m. every Sunday listening!)

Ms. Tippett was talking with Elizabeth Alexander, the poet who spoke at President Obama’s inauguration. Here’s what really struck me in their conversation…

— The responsibility that each of us has to “inject the word ‘love’ into our engagement with others”… and particularly those different than us.

— The human need (and I think, our responsibility as an individual and part of a community) to “experience and connect to the universal and to the particular.”

Yes, as people, we share many things, whether a particular faith or culture or history or language or… But others – others different than I myself am – experience life differently. Each person experiences parts of life differently, that which is particular to you or to me.

And if I never truly hear you, connect to what is particular to you, I can never understand how you experience life differently. How can any of us connect to the world, make decisions in business or government or for our neighborhood or our students or or or … How can any of us connect to others without trying to understand, to experience the particulars of another. J. K. Rowling talks about that as a failure of imagination, the inability to imagine the life of another, in her commencement address at Harvard University.

Of course none of us can live the life of another. But surely we must make every attempt to “pass through the particular” of others. Without this, how can we learn and share and understand. If we don’t “pass through the particular experience,” we are doomed to live in hatred and fear, disrespect and dishonor. We will get nowhere as a society. We will continue to create racist, sexist, homophobic communities.

An essential interest in each other – a willingness and eagerness to pass through the life of another – “makes possible the future.” Self-awareness allows me to recognize that I am different than you. Connecting with others – passing through the universal and their particular – allows me to imagine the life of another. And self-contemplation allows me to put all this together. Then we can create a better world, a just one.

So that was my thinking as I listened to Elizabeth Alexander and Krista Tibbett.

Filed under: Social Commentary

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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