Venture into "the Reality of the Other"

June 6, 2013 | 11:43 a.m.

By Katie Hayden '13

Katie Hayden '13 gives the senior reflection during the 9 a.m. commencement ceremony on May 25.

A senior reflection presented by Katie Hayden during the 9 a.m. commencement ceremony on May 25 for the College of Arts & Sciences at Bethel University. Hayden graduated from Bethel this spring with a Bachelor of Science degree in biokinetics.

Good morning graduates, family, friends, faculty, and staff. I want to start by thanking you for the privilege and opportunity to share with you today.

Of the 70,000 thoughts I have a day, about 99.6% of them concern myself. In the morning, when my body begins the objectionable awakening process, the first thoughts that tinker through my mind consist of what is my schedule for the day? Is it actually necessary for me to wake up right now? What do I need to get done? What should be the first thing? Our achievement-oriented culture is dreadfully influential. As my body comes to life my thoughts all too often continue down a path about myself.

The summer prior to coming to Bethel, I would say the earlier mentioned percentage was undoubtedly 99.9%. At that point, one would be foolish to not round up.

Oh, how terribly selfish was I.

Oh, how achingly selfish I still am.

There is but one hope I cling to—that mere less than a percent of growth. Those few moments my mind is not lured into the world of me, decorated in ephemeral satisfaction, and instead ventures into the inexpressible world of the other. A world that at first glance appears frightening and feels unfamiliar.

But a taste of that world is so gratifying that one cannot resist the temptation for more. So to that small percent of growth I continue to cling. A deepest hope is that we would together be overcome with bravery to venture into such an unaccustomed world and learn about the reality of the other.

The fall of my sophomore year I enrolled in “Modern Mind,” a philosophy course taught by Dr. (Don) Postema to cover a general education requirement. I shamefully admit I cannot pinpoint the theme or main topic of the class; needless to say philosophy also seemed a bit of a foreign world. However, there is one day I cannot forget. We had recently concluded the ethnographic novel Nickled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich set out to investigate the impact of the 1996 welfare reform by joining the low wage work force and in conclusion points out the flaws in assumptions towards the working poor including hidden costs, the lie of “unskilled” labor, and employer manipulation to keep wages low.

That day in class my professor had posed the question on how does one share the gospel-- the good news of eternal and true love-- with a homeless individual? As classmates and I provided answers, Dr. Postema only replied with questions challenging our common lingo such as “salvation, blessing, sin, love.” What are these words to one who has only been exposed to them through a lens of poverty and oppression? I wanted only to provide the solution, but keep myself separate. I had mentioned nothing of the sort to helping the individual find a place to stay for the night nor about what would happen the days to follow. Relationship and change do not develop within the confines of a couple hours.

Let us learn about the reality of the other.

In the words of Lila Watson, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

As previously mentioned I have not excelled at rewiring my thoughts towards the actuality of my brothers and sisters. Back tracking to freshman year, my perspective of Bethel was a community of sweet people who pursued God’s heart. Junior year my perspective of Bethel had morphed into a community of complacent people who only think about themselves. I apologize for my pride and ignorance—for I chose a false reality.  Today, I believe pieces of both to be true, but that is not true of our entire community nor is it true of a whole individual.

Junior year a friend and I founded a GlobeMed chapter on our campus. GlobeMed is an undergrad organization across the nation that partners a university chapter with a grassroots health organization for a multi-year partnership. Student and grassroots leaders collaborate on projects to deepen and expand the organization’s impact. GlobeMed at Bethel partners with REDA, Rural Economic Development Association, located in Svay Reing, Cambodia. I was privileged to spend part of last summer interning at REDA alongside four fellow GlobeMedders. Through GlobeMed and friends at REDA, I have started to learn the power of stepping into the unaccustomed world of another. How have we all experienced this during our journey here at Bethel? It need not be the world of one living poverty but just the one who is different from you, the one you’ve chosen to ignore, the one who scares you the most.

I challenge you to look into their world. Not just for a moment but gaze into it, allow authenticity to affect you. Allow it to change your direction; allow it to puncture your heart.

Graduates, we are a part of the tiny 6.7% in the world to have a college degree. 6.7% is not just a number or a statistic, it is a human story.  So employ your gift of a degree carefully and critically think upon what it has the power to enhance. Each job or career is in itself a vessel to either enrich, alter, or maintain a service and entity. Are you going to enrich a culture driven by materialism or enrich the life of another? Alter the direction of a corporation to bulldoze small businesses or alter how your company uses valuable resources? Will your writing maintain an ethnocentric worldview or will your teaching maintain education for children of all socioeconomic statuses?

As you sit here in your black hat, I can imagine that you, like I, right now may feel somewhat unexceptional and common. Yet perspective is a choice. Withdraw your mind from these walls and dive headfirst into the infinite strength of human connection. The more we learn about the reality of others, the more we learn about the reality of our own hearts and souls. So congratulations, graduates of 2013, and take hope-- for you have been given much and will do greater work than at this moment we can imagine, but know the greatness of that work is not measured by one’s own accomplishments or success but the greatness will be abundantly multiplied when it is harnessed to change and learning about the reality of the other.