Jennifer Gingerich

Benkler’s article prompted me to think about when and where in my life I was taught to understand other faiths or secular viewpoints.  Did I learn any of this in college?  In seminary?  Both broadened my worldview gradually, but I don’t recall specific teaching about how to take others’ perspectives on religion.  It was more getting an overview of the content of different faiths – the youth group visiting other churches, history of religion courses.  I agree with Mike and Rick that the most meaningful ways of learning empathy are simply accumulation of life experiences.  And CPE 🙂

Yet, for my kids, I do have hope that empathy can be taught.  Maybe it’s through intentionally surrounding oneself and one’s kids with people of different backgrounds.  And occasionally asking, “I wonder how they feel when…?”  I love hearing my kids come home and talk about classmates who come from other cultures, maybe who celebrate Ramadan or don’t celebrate Christmas.  They’re only 8, so these conversations aren’t very deep yet.  But it feels like there is potential, paired with things like restorative practices and a focus on racial equity in schools.

The article presented a challenge to me – why doesn’t my (extended) family talk about religion/faith much?  Our way of being focuses on getting along.  We’re a pretty conflict-avoidant bunch.  Yet, what richness are we missing by setting aside this part of ourselves?  One of my residents complains that her family follows that rule of not discussing politics or religion, but to her those are important, and she doesn’t see why they shouldn’t discuss what’s important!

The Swinton interview was interesting.  I’m not sure I agree with him about spirituality not being a real thing, but that’s probably because I have been taught a lot about it as a dimension of human existence!   I appreciate his example about how pain detracts from community and connection with God, so relief of pain can be a spiritual practice.  And yet, maybe that understanding is too broad to be fully useful.  I find that to describe my work, to make spiritual assessments, I need a bigger definition of spirituality than just people’s relationships to God.  It does involve how we connect to other people, and how we perceive control or loss of control, and how our values play out in our lives.  Yet, there have to be some boundaries to what is spiritual, even if they are a bit fuzzy, to keep me from trying to play social worker or nurse.  Maybe I didn’t completely grasp where Swinton was going with this.  I did like what he said about our human tendency to turn mystery into puzzles to be solved.