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Letter: Understanding our differences could heal divide
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As an educator for over 20 years, I have been a staunch advocate for public education. Education can change the world. Language is power. The words we use either open up or shut down possibilities for students. What our schools offer to students and the models educators set for them have profound influence on the future of our democracy.

During the days following the election and inauguration, I have nearly fallen to cynicism concerning the common sense of our citizenry. However, I am reminded that we can choose to exercise critical thinking skills to make solid decisions; we must use truth to guide us and yet understand that truth is relative to our positions, and finally, above all else, we must begin with our hearts. May kindness for our neighbors drive us.

In Parker Palmer’s “Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (2011),” he writes: “For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive and we are legion the heart is where everything begins: that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as openings to new life for us and for our nation.”

If we allow our hearts to have a place in our citizenship, we can promote democracy in our circles of influence, and it will ripple through our nation.

As a young adult entering an urban university nearly three decades ago, I encountered many others peers who were starkly different than me. I recall sitting in an anthropology class and the differences were explicit: differences in race, religion, language, age, attire, sexual orientation, hairstyles, dialect and so on. I had an opportunity to grow, consider our diversity and learn from it.

It was not until I encountered differences that I could really interrogate my own beliefs; if the beliefs and values stood firmly, they must be mine. I learned who I am and grew stronger from what I learned from others. I began to value differences among people and realized that the great big world was full of lots of different people. It is what I hope for my children that they will think deeply about issues, ask questions, challenge inequities in a kind manner, stand hand in hand with others because we are all part of one another. We need each other. We must become a community.

Too often, we have seen fear cripple communities and events incited by ugly words, opinions and actions, some intentional and others with unexpected consequences. Can we work together to bring about worthwhile change for the children? Our actions now will definitely have repercussions for future generations.

Stretch your head, open your heart, and determine to work tirelessly to seek to understand one another. Understanding comes from the head and the heart and can be a bridge to a better world.

Shane Rayburn
Gainesville

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