John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

The Grand Divide-What Can We Do To Come Over to the Other Side?

John Gardner

I have no idea how many of my readers know me well enough to know that I am a very secular man and not conventionally religious. I mention this to provide context for what follows here.  Most Sunday’s I accompany my wife, Dr. Betsy Barefoot, to her church, All Souls Cathedral, in Asheville, North Carolina. I enjoy being with her and I have great respect for the priests, their messages, and the all inclusive nature of the congregation—and you all know what that means when I say “all inclusive”!

Last Sunday the priest spoke about the fact that our country has created what he called “The Grand Divide”. And he pointed that out to ask what each of us could individually do to “come over to the other side,” to reach out to those we know are on the other side of The Grand Divide from us. I just haven’t been able to stop thinking about this.

If I were still in charge of a first-year seminar (and I wish I were) and if that seminar were theme based, I think I would choose this theme of “The Grand Divide.” Even if you are not teaching this fall an applicable course, what matters is you are working with students, and or our fellow citizens in some way(s). So what could you do with your students, friends, colleagues, to better understand the other side, their concerns, fears, anger, hopes, dreams? What could you be sharing with them about yours? How can you meet them at least half way? How can we be increasing our contact with each other, working together on mutual issues that matter? I am increasingly ready to join many other citizens who have given up on our leaders in Washington to act like adults and focus on the common good. I am about ready to give up on most of them. What matters is what I do in my own locus of control. We all have locus of control. Somehow we must create models for our students of how adults can live together in civility, each attempting to come over to the other side. I am more committed to this than ever. We have to save ourselves from ourselves.

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