I am teaching at a local University, one which that I have worked at as a counselor, and also graduated from twenty five years ago. It holds a very close place in my heart. What also holds a close place is the students that I work with every week. For one and one half hours, every week, for the next three months, I will meet with them and talk about typical issues that affect them the most as first year college students: time management, stress management, substance use, commitment to community, career, and study skills. Another topic that I like to spend a great deal of time discussing with my students is cultural identity and cultural awareness. For me, I think working with these young, impressionable adults on identifying the roots of their values, beliefs, and judgments, will help them to be better people, and better citizens in this world. Tonight, we talked about the aspects of their lives that are part of their cultural identity. They named some of the same aspects: family, friends, faith, and values such as honesty, respect, love, connection. Many similarities.
Then, we talked about differences. Through the use of several, telling questions, I got them talking about discrimination, prejudices, and how they view differences between groups of people. Although they had some pretty progressive views about some things, in regard to minorities, and attitudes that exist, they seemed timid and unsure about acknowledging their own positions of privilege, and their own stereotypical views about members of certain groups.
I find that to be both an opportunity presented to me, to guide them in a better understanding of our world as a “salad bowl” of cultures and identities, but not just an opportunity, even moreso I see it as my RESPONSIBILITY. To give them accurate information. To not let them stop at saying, “prejudice and stereotyping is wrong”, but challenging them to explore the roots of it. My responsibility to acknowledge views expressed that are generalizing in nature, and challenging them to think a bit more broadly and globally.
You see, every time that I teach a topic, challenge an inaccurate belief, encourage a student to push themselves intellectually, I am planting a seed. The soil may be sandy, or riddled with stones, but most of the time, what I find is dark, rich, fertile soil. So that seed lands in welcome dirt, and has an environment for strong growth. Sometimes, after the seed is planted, maybe the life cannot spring forth right away, because it needs more light, more water, or less light or water. It may take me awhile to get the hang of what is most needed by each individual seed, but I am a patient gardner. I don’t always have a green thumb, but I am patient, and I do all that I can to keep that seed thriving, and growing.
Before I know it, I have a seedling, and then, a plant that grows taller and stronger with each helping of light, love and water. There may be times that the plant gets forgotten, doesn’t get watered as often as it should, doesn’t get the nutrients it needs. Plants wilt when they aren’t tended to. It takes consistency and care, to keep up with it. But it is all worth it.
You see, life being lived in a full, Ubuntu sense, means that we learn to be good, loving and caring gardners. We not only have to tend to our own garden, but also the gardens of others that we come to know and encounter. As we grow and tend within our own souls, our own spirits, then we become more able to plant those seeds, and teach others the skills to tend their own gardens. Each seed, each time we plant it, and tend it and grow the beauty of acceptance, love and understanding in others, adds to the creation of a beautiful garden.
A garden of love, of beauty, of respect, of compassion, of caring and connection. What a beautiful image, yes?