Love: Building Bridges in a Time of Divisiveness


Love. It’s an obvious topic for the week of Valentine’s. Easy.

Yet, when we look at what’s happening in the world, it feels as though divisiveness (in politics and in communities) is on the rise. The sense that we’re all connected in a way that transcends particular regional or faith identities is under pressure. In movements that have gained ground in the U.S. and Europe, the baseline expression of love seems to have tipped away from “take care of each other” and towards “take care of our own.”

So this week, in Chapel, we focused on examples where people chose to respond to situations with a kind of love that breaks barriers. Each of the stories included reference to members of the Muslim community who, as a whole, have borne an unequal burden as a result of shifting public attitudes.

On Jan. 29 in Quebec, a very lost, young man walked into a Mosque and killed six people because they were Muslim. In response to this tragedy, large groups across Canada abandoned their routines and gathered in solidarity and unity with those impacted. Importantly, this was not simply a case of Mosques opening their doors (though they did). Gatherings were also organized by Synagogues, Churches, and other groups. In the aftermath, people responded with an embracing love, ignoring cultural lines that might otherwise divide.

This week, a recent alumni of the school, Eloise Patmore, publicly shared an incident that occurred in a local emergency room. She found herself in the waiting area with two couples. One couple sat a little down the row from her, while the other couple sat across the aisle with their two-year-old girl. Of course, nobody wants to be in a hospital waiting room, especially when one’s child is sick. At this point, another woman enters the room, seats herself beside the young family, and comments on the mother’s niqab. Speaking not to the parents, but directly to the daughter, she informs the two-year-old that her mother shouldn’t be wearing such a thing. It doesn’t take long for Eloise to interject with a request that the woman please keep her comments to herself. For her efforts, she’s told to mind her own business, though otherwise the woman falls silent – momentarily.

Soon, the woman is explaining God to the two-year-old and how her parents don’t have it right. Again, Eloise politely intervenes, pointing out that there are other places for the woman to sit and that she should leave the family alone. The couple beside her quietly alert security. In the end, the woman is escorted out and Eloise is told how much her actions meant to the family. I can see why. Without even knowing their names, she tried to protect them – a very loving moment.

If we’re encouraged by examples such as these, the good news is that hardly a day goes by when we can’t reflect this kind of love in our own lives.

In the aftermath of something going seriously wrong for someone, we don’t have to call the whole community together for a vigil, but we certainly can let the person know that we heard what happened and that we’re with them, willing to help. This love can be freely applied in cases of broken bones, fractured relationships and chipped psyches.

In advance of something even becoming an issue, we can take the time to figure out our stance and proactively acquire the tools necessary to tackle the situation. When it comes to social media use at the Middle School, we’re taught to THINK (Ask ourselves, ‘Is it true, honest, intelligent, necessary, and kind?’) before launching into a negative send spiral.

In the moment, we can step in to reset the tone of a conversation or at least join in when someone else takes the first positive step. We’ve all been in a circle where others were being inappropriate or mean. Each of us can make a difference in making our interactions more loving.

Ultimately, to whom we extend love is a choice. Ours to share as we see fit.

Some in our world may be loudly arguing that we need to focus on taking care of our own. To my mind, this reflects an uninspired and narrow understanding of love. We know within our own community at SMUS that deep bonds can be forged across cultural, economic, religious, and geopolitical boundaries. We are a boarding school with students from 24 different countries. Though imperfect, we are a diverse, welcoming and open-minded community. Our experience tells us that we’re at our best when we proactively open ourselves to the experience and influence of others. We can attest as a school that even the most challenging conversations benefit from a timely reminder of who we want to be as a community and as global citizens.

In other words, despite loud voices in the world to the contrary, it’s the week of Valentine’s and we’ll focus on what connects us beyond our limited circles and perspectives. At SMUS we’ll strive to tip the scale towards a broad, inclusive, active love.


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