Last week I spoke to Academy students and staff about the value of sharing our cultural, religious, and personal selves with one another. The following is a restatement of that reflection for your consideration.
There was a time, perhaps mythical, when Americans were expected to be different from one another: different culturally, religiously, personally, politically. There was a time, perhaps mythical, when those differences were thought of as a strength. I was raised with the notion that America was a Melting Pot; Jimmy Carter called it a Mosaic. Both images presume differences standing alongside one another. I still believe that the point of living next to people who are different from me is to learn about our differences, not to hide from them. I believe that in doing so, I become stronger, not weaker. I am not offended by people who believe differently than I do, I am curious.
This week some of our Jewish students have been sharing with us different perspectives on Chanukah; next week at our concert one band will sing a Christmas song; next Friday at Polyglot we’ll sing songs in different languages and cultures we study; our Dutch visitors weeks ago shared stories of St. Nicholas and the “black-face helpers” who visit homes in Holland each year. Some people in this day and age believe that we should be offended when such differences are shared. At The Academy we actively encourage and engage these personal stories.
I promise my students that no matter what they share of themselves with me, I will not be less for it, but greater. I invite them to do the same with others. If I hear a Christmas song and I am not Christian, I am no less of who I am for it; if I am an atheist and I hear someone praying to God, I am no less of who I am for it. And I promise everyone that no matter what I hear from them, I will be enriched, not diminished, by the sharing.