Intentionally wandering in Yangon, Burma with a good friend, led to being found by two Buddhist monks our same age. I was there to study how Buddhism influences culture as part of a study abroad program through Samford University. The monks invited us to spend the day at their monastery. The all-day conversation that ensued still serves as a beacon – it was a pinpointed moment of having to re-think all that I thought I knew and a moment that marks the beginning of an aspiration to introduce students to all they do not know.
“What do you think of my beliefs and vow?” they asked. The question, in such an uncommon context, pierced through the absolutism and fundamentalism I had been raised in as a christian evangelical. My pastor would have told me to explain that they were going to hell until they accepted Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. That they were so earnest and loving contrasted with my unfounded piousness. Their questions and sharing proved capable of releasing me from what I thought I was supposed to be. All that I thought I knew had to be vetted and re-thought. It also set a precedent by which I now live my life: living well in communities is better done in the absence of fundamentalism – I could not have shared meals with them in peace had I dogmatically preached that my way was better than another. They were not doing that. Their experiences were shared humbly and openly. They walked me through the path of the humanities as they asked questions that necessitated a more robust understanding of who I was, how I got to that monastery, and to consider where I was headed and why. Moreover, I came away with the belief that our communities benefit from a robust willingness to humbly approach space and place-making knowing that our preconceptions are always incomplete – we can’t live well until our worldviews allow for exceptionally diverse experiences. The meaning of that day is still being made; being confronted so holistically with all that I did not know was life changing; it made my life better and richer and more interesting. As a teacher, my pedagogical decisions are imbued with the spirit of that day. I join other thoughtful teachers in the humanities in prodding students to work rigorously, to practice the skills necessary for crafting worldviews that incorporate disparate, complex narratives. The intent is to prepare them for literal and figurative conversations wherein their hard-earned deftness with complexity will lead to healthy living in healthy, inclusive communities.