I’ve recently been on the hunt for meaningful, gainful employment. I am passionate about a few things, and helping higher-ed students continually rises to the top, whether it’s career counseling, financial counseling, spiritual counseling or even regular ol’ counseling-counseling. While the majority of my academic and recent employment history has focused on the spiritual side of student life and development, I am open to wherever the path may lead. I just want to be the right person in the right place at the right time to make a positive difference in another person’s life. “When a body meets a body coming through the rye,” and all that (thanks, Holden Caulfield). But I digress.
I had an interview today with a school and a department that I would really like to be a part of. In that interview they asked me a variation of the standard diversity question: “How would you relate to a person who held different philosophical and religious views from yourself?” Here’s the basics of what I said: “Tolerance isn’t a problem for me. I don’t even like the word because it indicates that we are merely ‘putting up’ with something that we don’t really like or agree with. I appreciate others’ perspectives, and I’ve found that labeling doesn’t work that well anyway. As I recently found out in Texas, and depending on the context, I’ve found myself to be the most “liberal” guy in the room at one moment, and then the most “conservative” guy in the next. My personal philosophy is to find ways to agree and make new friends rather than looking for ways to disagree and create enemies. When it comes to coworkers and students who see things differently, it just isn’t a problem. I am easy to get along with.”
This is a fair and true answer, but I feel like I muddled through it. Here’s what I wish I had said (with gusto, of course): “I learn so much from people who think and believe differently than I do. I can’t even imagine how boring it would be if everyone thought and believed like me. I would never learn anything from anyone, because I would already know it all. Life would stagnate and fester. Use whatever mental imagery seems appropriate there. Would I engage others on where we differed? You bet, but not to argue. It doesn’t make any sense to disagree when you don’t yet understand, so my goal is always to understand others (at least in my better moments) and discover how my own thinking can change and grow from the exchange. I might offer my own thoughts and feelings on an issue, but it won’t be a line in the sand. It will be a ‘Here’s what I think and why, now it’s your turn; tell me what you want me to know.”
Oh, if only I had been that quick the first time.
C’est la vie.