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Hopefully more than a conversation starter

| Monday, November 7, 2016

The other day, I was sitting in my education class and I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. We were having a class discussion about issues that are prevalent in today’s society, such as systematic discrimination and the opportunity gap. The night before, we had an assigned reading that touched on similar topics. During the reading, I had to stop several times because I also felt overwhelmed and frustrated due to the problems mentioned.

Over a week ago, I went on a trip to Clearfork, Tennessee through the Appalachia seminar program in the Center for Social Concerns. The trip was a joyful time filled with laughter and relationship building, but also a challenging time filled with reflection and conviction. Throughout the week, we engaged with the community on different levels, whether it was going to the local council to hear resolutions get passed or going to the local Baptist church to see how religion was practiced there.

This fall break’s immersion trip was not the first of its kind for me. Something that hit me hard this time around though was my purpose for going on these trips. My purpose was something I had thought about the first two trips but this time the feeling was different — more powerful. Around Clearfork, the brokenness in our world seemed, at times, too much too handle. It was not just the issues prevalent in the Clearfork community that were getting to me but also the issues that seem to be prevalent worldwide. Being a part of a community that knew hardship and struggle made me realize the amount of struggle and pain we all deal with.

What frustrates me about our situation was what we, as Notre Dame students, do with these problems. We talk about them: no change. And then we talk about them more: no change. And then we make events and posters about them and then we talk about them more: no change. We have to stop talking so much about these issues and start changing what we have control over: our behavior. I don’t have the ability to stop bullying everywhere but I do have the ability to treat others with authentic kindness and make sure I stand up for others when they’re being bullied. The only thing I have control over is how I act on a daily basis. What matters to me is not how prevalent sexism is on a college campus. What matters to me is how I treat women. What matters to me is how I talk about women with my friends. Do I cherish my girlfriend and other women who are in my life? Do I make sure they feel loved and appreciated by me?

Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is value in having events to discuss issues and spreading awareness for them. In fact, without awareness, some problems would never be revealed and some solutions would never be discovered. What I’ve seen though is such a huge focus on awareness and “problem finding” and such little focus on changing our hearts and behaviors. I’ll hear different groups of people be blamed for the troubles we experience in the world. I’ll watch people blame others but refuse to look at themselves and admit they play a part. They’ll preach against “hate” but then hate the very person they are against. We all need to take ownership. Not just one particular group or organization, but all of us. We need to stop blaming others for problems in our lives and start changing ourselves. Take a look at the political election we are currently facing. All we hear is how evil Trump is and how corrupt Clinton is. Why? Because each candidate blames the other one for the issues in America. How refreshing would it be if either of them swallowed their pride and said, “You know what? We’re both a part of the problems in America. But we can change that.” All it takes is some humility, intention and effort. We need to be open with ourselves and with others. If I feel sad, I should use that sadness as motivation to make sure others don’t feel that same sadness. If I experience a trial in my life, I should share it with others so they can feel confident in their trials. Positive change means being slow to talk but quick to listen. It means understanding before acting. The first step, though, is admitting we all play a part.

Thinking back to my week in the Appalachia region, I have discovered my purpose to why I go on those trips: to better know how to love others. I may not interact with the people I met in Clearfork every day, but I can take the compassion, understanding, empathy and love that was exchanged during that week and bring it in to my life. In the end, people from around the world are not so different from one another. We all have hurt, we all have pain, we all make mistakes, but we all need love. Not just the love that accepts others for who they are; that love is necessary but it can be surface level. The love we need is a penetrating love that enriches someone’s life — the love that Romans 12:9-21 talks about. The type of love that pushes us to a higher standard — one that accepts where we are at but pushes to see improvement.

As Notre Dame students, we need to hold each other to a higher standard. We need to listen, understand, empathize and improve. I urge you all to strive with me one day at a time.

If you would like to figure out how to live out the things I mentioned in this article, reach out to me through my email address: [email protected] I would love to have a conversation with you!

Matthew Millay
Nov. 6

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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