Friday, October 4, 2013

Intercultural Conversation on Responsibility

The recent work of the Advanced Reading class of the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP) has revolved around environmental issues of global warming and climate change. As described in our previous two posts, the class has read the book Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard, watched the film An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore, and visited with environmental expert Dr. Aimée K. Thomas, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Loyola University New Orleans.

To complement our work on global warming and climate change, we focused our second Intercultural Conversation of the semester on responsibility. Each of our Intercultural Conversations is a wonderful opportunity to carry our discussion beyond the classroom walls: we meet in one of the seminar rooms of Loyola's library and invite members of the Loyola community and interested New Orleanians to share ideas with us. Our discussions are expertly led by Dr. David O'Donaghue, a philosopher, psychologist, and artist, and the founder and director of the New Orleans Lyceum and of Chautauqua New Orleans for life-long learning.

Our first Intercultural Conversation of the semester focused on crisis. This second Intercultural Conversation focused on responsibility with this question:

Do we have a responsibility to past and future generations?
If so, how do we exercise this responsibility?

Our reading encouraged us to think of our responsibility to care for the earthly legacy of past generations and to leave a clean and beautiful planet for future generations, but we were open to looking at other areas of responsibility to past and future generations as well.

As we began our Intercultural Conversation, turning our attention first to a definition of responsibility, the idea of duty emerged. Some of us felt that duty could be burdensome, while others felt that duty instilled a sense of pride. One student from Saudi Arabia spoke of his first taste of responsibility, at age ten, when he was asked to take care of his young niece for a little while. This duty, or obligation, that he had been given caused him to feel good about himself: he experienced a kind of honor in being the big one and caring for the little one. On the other hand, another member of the Loyola community expressed how he had initially found the responsibility of child-care burdensome until he switched his thinking from child-care as fulfilling a duty to child-care as true caring from the heart.

The idea emerged that responsibility in excess can have negative consequences. Over-caring for others can prevent those others from learning to exercise life skills on their own. It can also lead to over-working and neglecting our own self-care so that we become tired and lose our enthusiasm for life.

As we began to speak of our responsibility to the past and to the future, one New Orleanian pointed out the importance of our inter-connectedness with each other, with our ancestors, and with generations yet to come. A student from Saudi Arabia spoke of the hopeful direction he sees in his country, where an attitude of the powerful overcoming the weak has been replaced with an attitude of mutual respect and support, of recognizing our inter-connectedness. A student from Brazil spoke of the warmth of his countrymen, their willingness to help each other, and their ready smiles. On the other hand, a student from Japan expressed regret that some of the cultural treasures of the past in the city of Kyoto had not been preserved as carefully as he would wish.

The LIEP students, the other members of the Loyola community, and the New Orleanians who participated in this Intercultural Conversation all enjoyed the pleasure of enlarging our concept of responsibility by hearing the ideas of others and sharing our own ideas. We extend a huge THANK YOU to all the participants in our second Intercultural Conversation and to Dr. David O'Donaghue for his expert leadership of our discussion! 

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