Eboo Patel came to Goshen last week, and his talks both Thursday night and Friday morning were challenging and hopeful in a number of ways. I could use this space to tell you all about him and his work and his interactions on campus, but I’ll let you read Abby’s article instead (peep page 1).I was challenged by something he said on Thursday night about diversity. He asked, when everyone in a room looks differently, talks differently, comes from a different place, is of different socioeconomic status or educational level, or speaks a different language, but still agree on everything… is that true diversity?
I was reminded of a quote by Anne Lamott: “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people that you do.” Eboo challenged us to think about the diversity of ideas, the diversity of opinions and especially religious beliefs as we engage with a variety of people. And, like Anne said, not to superimpose our own ideas or assumptions on top of different individuals or situations before we even engage.
Thursday’s presentation, as well as much of Eboo’s work, centered on how engaging with a variety of people from different backgrounds or beliefs, specifically in an interfaith context, can be a positive interaction rather than one full of conflict. He talked about how diversity can actually help individuals grow in their individuality—it doesn’t erase who you are to be around people who are different from you. He said, in fact, it usually works the opposite way: being around people who are different from you actually helps you solidify your own identity.
I think this rings true especially for college students. Usually students are faced with a wider variety of diverse people than they’ve ever met or interacted with before in the first few months after arriving.
Why do we think college is a time known for developing a sense of individuality? Never do we have to think through something more than when we’re faced with explaining it to someone—whether it be our religious beliefs (or lack thereof), choice of major (or lack thereof), or haircut (or lack thereof).
I hope we can continue to see interactions with those who are different from ourselves on one level or another as a positive thing. Let’s not shy away from it in fear of losing ourselves, but lean in and forge connections in hopes of growing into and learning more about ourselves at the same time.