Compassionate communication: the key to a diverse campus

One of the best things about attending a liberal arts college is the chance to discover new parts of the world.  My favorite part about being a Gustie is the way my time here has exposed me to new ideas and opinions.  I grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin and as much as I loved my childhood, it did not expose me to a wide range of perspectives.  College has exposed me to cultural views from around the world.

Students here come from a wide variety of religious, political, ethnic, and racial backgrounds.  When I first came to Gustavus, I had a shift in my perspective because the world is so much bigger than I thought it was. As a first-year, I was worried that all of my world views would change and I would lose my identity.  I have come to learn that it does not take a radical change in beliefs or values to respect someone who sees the world differently.  Now that I have had more time at Gustavus,  I do not believe that a change in perspective is a bad thing.

As humans, we should always be striving to grow in new and unexpected ways.  Our campus is tries to value diversity, but I think sometimes we like to put it in a box.  We spend certain days of the year or months celebrating different groups.  We listen to speakers in chapel and around campus, but then we go back to our respective, comfortable social groups, and continue to disengage with the ideas presented to us.  If we disagree with the points being made, we shut down and stop listening.

I am not pointing fingers.  I am not perfect when it comes to engaging people who are different than me; I do not know anyone who is.  I believe that the important thing is compassionate communication.  I think we sometimes struggle with this as a student body.  We often run into people who believe things that are different than us and choose to listen to respond instead of listening to understand.  Passive listening means only hearing enough to form a defense of one’s own opinion.  Active listening means fully comprehending and engaging with what is said.

We often feel so protective of our own world view that our first reaction is to defend it instead of listening to what others have to say.  Listening to others does not mean that our opinions have to change, but at least we will be able to better understand a different world view.

With that respect comes deeper relationships.  I believe it shows security in a person’s identity when they can engage in a thoughtful conversation with someone who believes differently than they do. This world is a big and beautiful place and  it is filled with so many different world views and ideas.  It is easy to understand that sometimes these views will clash, but that does not mean we have to.  Compassionate communication means taking the time to listen, ask questions, and to think deeply and fairly about what others say.

One of my favorite ways to communicate compassionately  is through Deliberation and Dialogue, a program we have here on campus.  The program brings students, faculty, and community members together to talk about difficult topics.  Some of the topics covered in the past include the role of citizens, immigration, climate change, and more.  The goal of the conversation is never to make everyone agree but to help participants develop skills to communicate with compassion and to listen before speaking.  I urge our community to start being more intentional about communicating this way.  It may not be easy at first, but it will be worth it.

By listening to others, we not only validate and better understand new perspectives, but we grow our own world view and our sense of compassion, even if we do not share those experiences.  There is something powerful about having another person listen to your story and perspective without the fear of judgment.

It is even more powerful when someone hears you and validates what you have shared.  Our community has the ability to create this kind of powerful experience for others.  This is what I plan to work on over the rest of my time here at Gustavus.  I want to show compassion and learn to listen before I speak.