It is clear that the divide between political parties, conservative versus liberal, unrest between cultures, negative racial feelings and so many other displays of anger and hatred bombard our senses everyday through the media and social media. The United States is seeing one of its worst times in quite a while.
Yet this time of year there is a call for all people to “love one another”; to “embrace our fellow man”; to “give to the less fortunate”; and other sentiments that, frankly, we should express all year long. These are wonderful aspirations during the holidays and it is my hope that we take them to heart and truly try to embrace others. Religious teachings tell us to embrace and welcome those who are not like us. Human decency dictates that we help those less fortunate than us. Yet, here we are.
I am also struck by how at institutions of higher education, we attempt to teach this spirit of acceptance all year long. While some people call that “liberal brainwashing” (an accusation to which I scoff) in colleges and universities, like FM, we work hard to have students, and all who attend our campus events, try to understand people who are different from ourselves and not be quick to judge others based on bias or misinformed stereotypes. It is through listening, reading, talking and openness that we begin to understand, accept and celebrate people who are not like us. This is not just the holiday spirit — it is humanity.
Let me be more specific. I recently saw a post on Facebook that decried the election of some folks of Muslim faith to the Congress. The clear implication was that Muslims are terrorists trying to undermine the United States – a country founded on religious freedom. I’ve heard people in our community express total fear of the thought of refugees from other countries moving to our region. I see in the media the rage of some citizens at immigrants who both legally and illegally have entered the U.S. I read how attacks on Mosques and Synagogues have increased tremendously over the past two years. I see the racism toward Blacks and Hispanics on the rise all across the country. I shudder at how this can be happening in our country.
So it occurs to me that higher education — an industry dedicated to the exchange of ideas, the exploration of other cultures, the pursuit of the truth and the inclusion of all people — really strives to display the holiday spirit of “love thy fellow man” all year long. It is a value that is explicit to what we do and what we teach. If that is “liberal brainwashing” — I’m proud of it.
Understanding and embracing people who are not like us is not always easy. Sometimes it’s downright difficult to do; it takes us out of our comfort zone. However, if we don’t work at it; if we don’t try; we will be a nation of conflict and violence forever more. I would much rather spread peace.
Have a great holiday season and keep that spirit in your heart all year long.
Dustin Swanger is president of FMCC.