As many of you know, one of my favorite teachers/authors is Parker Palmer. From reading his books and attending workshops and retreats developed or led by him, I’ve learned the importance of paradox. When he uses the term, he is talking about the idea that two seemingly opposite realities can exist at the same time and place. For example, the ideas of tradition and change would seem to be opposites, but organizations need both. UTSA is a great example of this – we are actively involved in creating both significant change and important traditions. We want leaders to be visionary and keep both feet firmly planted in reality. We tell people to be proud of their accomplishments, but we want them to be humble.
In the same way, we want to honor diversity of thought and ideas and background and gender and religion and ethnicity, and we want to be inclusive and bring everyone together. We want to be recognized for who we are; and we want and need to be able to live together in community. One of the most powerful paradoxes is that to be able to fully engage in a diverse community, we have to be fully individual.
Several years ago, I attended a diversity workshop with presenters who were very clear that being inclusive did not mean ignoring difference. They said that if we walked out of the program and, in describing them, didn’t include their gender or ethnicity – or, in one case, religious identity – then we wouldn’t be acknowledging who they truly are. And if we don’t acknowledge who people are as individuals, then they won’t really feel welcome in the community.
An interviewee on a podcast I was listening to recently made a similar point when he spoke about the paradoxical idea that the particular is universal. Rabbi Jonathan Sachs is the Chief Rabbi of England. He talked about Matisyahu, an American Hasidic Jewish reggae musician. As he put it, you can’t get much more particular or have a more distinctive voice than that, but that “Everyone can relate to him, Jewish or not, because he is so unique.” Now that’s a paradox – the more unique I am, the more that people can relate to me! When I stop and think about it though, it makes sense. The more I get to know someone who is different than I am and to acknowledge their specific experience, the more likely I am to find ways we are similar.
As we start the new semester, we welcome literally thousands of new members to our UTSA community. While we can’t meet every one of them, the more individuals we can each know, the richer our community will be; the more we can be truly our unique, interesting, individual selves, the richer our community will be. So, first follow the advice of storyteller Andy Offutt Irwin. He says he has“...to tell myself all the time when I’m afraid about doing something that hasn’t been done before because it is really frightening to step out and do something different. So I will tell myself ‘Don’t be afraid to be amazing.’”
So, let’s agree this year that we won’t be afraid to be our amazing, wonderful, flawed, unique selves. And let’s agree that we’ll try to do something “really frightening” and step out into the idea that this wonderful group of individuals can create a truly amazing community here at UTSA!
Have an amazing semester!!