By Liza Vellieux, President of Furman Interfaith
“When we build a culture of understanding and uphold human dignity, we build a better world.” This quote from the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon highlights a simple yet powerful concept that underlies the importance of making a better community for ourselves and others.
In the past year there has been a lot of discussion about our culture of understanding, or lack of understanding, in the United States. There has also been much discussion about our failure to uphold human dignity in this country, where equality stands at the core of our identity. Many of these conversations have been sparked by events centered on issues of race relations. As is always the case, the reactions have come in many different forms. Some have been critical, some supportive, some hateful, and some full of understanding. However, the reactions are less important than the reasons behind the entire conversation and our culture. It is important that when we confront discrimination we ask ourselves what kind of culture we are building.
This summer I attended the North American Interfaith Network’s annual conference in Detroit. This is a conference of individuals who work all over North America striving to build a positive culture that leads to a better world. At the very first session of the conference, Rev. Daniel Buttery, a Baptist minister from Detroit, challenged the group with what he thinks the key is to creating real understanding and true reconciliation. He said to get beyond “the kind of conversation you have on a first date.” He is talking about the kind of conversation where you are careful of what you say because you would not want to offend your date. This is the kind of conversation where you talk about all your successes, strategically avoiding your mistakes. When we stick to this first date conversation we miss our opportunity to build a culture that leads to better community. I think we have missed quite a few opportunities here at Furman.
The first date kind of conversation is an important starting place to have difficult discussions about race relations, but it leaves us with no real foundation on which to cultivate a Furman community free from prejudice. On Thursday night of this past week, the Furman NAACP held a vigil for Michael Brown. At the vigil, Courtney Thomas challenged all in attendance to keep their eyes open while here at Furman. These are wise words. We need to keep our eyes open to times when we have an opportunity for real, honest conversation about our prejudices and our failures in the pursuit of a culture of understanding. When you see hate, speak of love. Build up an environment of mutual respect and we will find ourselves, not only in a better Furman community, but in a better world.