It seems like only yesterday when I became a part of the Seeds of Peace community. In fact, it was last summer.
Camp was an experience that I found inspiring and in some aspects, almost unbelievable. Assembled together were a spectrum, a blend of opinions and beliefs, each so different and unique, yet somehow we found a way to live not just agreeably, but harmoniously, with each person having the heart to empathize, listen, and reach out to someone who is the complete opposite of what they stand for.
Even when there was conflict, when misunderstanding arose, people were willing to use conflict as a way to sharpen their outlook while respecting the humanity of those around them, rather than using hatred and bigotry to sow chaos.
The whole experience however truly crystallized itself for me on the last day of the session. That was the day when I saw people who had originally resented each other embrace one another with tears in their eyes; when people, whose strength and tough resilience made me wonder if they had ever in their lives shed a tear, began to cry. That was the day I learned my big lesson: that unity and love are one of the few things you can’t force on people.
I learned that day that hearts are won and people are healed not when you win a debate or build a wall, but rather when you make a bridge and take your fellow brother by the hand. I was sorrowful when I left Camp because I thought that this lesson I had learned would be left behind in Maine, but I realized that this was a lesson that could spread its roots anywhere and everywhere.
The times we are living in have been referenced by various names, but as someone that has always been interested in facts, the term “post-truth era” has always stood out to me. It’s a phrase that I believe captures the essence of a root harm that is corrupting our country and the democratic values it is grounded on.
From what I’ve learned, a democracy in its purest form ultimately must be centered on truth. How that truth is reached of course is an ordeal and a struggle, but that is the nature of such an endeavour. We are meant to communicate with others, because truth in its completeness has various aspects of it present in the various ideals valued by various people. The only way the full image can be painted is when we use our knowledge as means to extend what we know to others and receive what they extend to us.
As a concerned student in a nation of much concern, I created a club for civil discourse in my school because I have seen that not only is civil discourse valuable, but that few spaces really allow it.
Our country has become so increasingly polarized to the point that people no longer are concerned about what the facts are, as long as those facts support them. Ideology no longer is a means for truth, but truth a means for ideology. That effectively kills truth by making it subjective and relative. It divides people and imprisons them in their own bubbles.
The purpose of the club is to empower young people and motivate them to engage in self-education and constant inquiry out of a passion for truth, to hear those who may have a different view, not so that they can enter into an argument, but so they can ask question, discuss, and have a better understanding of the topic.
The club works simply enough. We begin the session with a rundown of some of the biggest issues on the local, national, and international level in that given week. After the summary is done, a couple questions will be posed to initiate dialogue.
Dialogue in such a setting is members expressing their political opinion on different policies and issues. When various members set forward “clashing” points of views, I invite them to ask questions of clarification on the matter rather than trying to prove the other outlook as wrong.
The dialogue can also be a personal experience should members bring their own life stories to the discussion. This gives people the opportunity to participate in the humanizing element of discourse and the vulnerability that comes with it. It also gives people a chance to offer genuine constructive criticism and input about the things that go on in school and in their everyday lives.
The club is only a couple months old, but the signs of influence are clear. Students are slowly becoming more open to hearing different views. People are more interested about hearing the news and discussing current events with friends at lunch. Students that are usually quiet are more confident and are active in the dialogue setting.
Ultimately my vision for this club is for it to grow and spread into other schools, regardless of whether they are public, charter, or independent. My vision is to create a multi-school alliance of passionate leaders from diverse socio-economic and racial backgrounds that can lead a student system for civil discourse on a grand scale. I have seen this interest already sparked in other schools, and have recognized that this is a foundation for the countless students who, in a matter of years, will comprise the next generation of voters and decision makers in this country.
Thanks to the training and ongoing support of Seeds of Peace, I think this is a real possibility to be achieved.
As Robert Kennedy once said: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Today we can all be that current.