Deep differences part 1: A haiku

Photo by Seema Miah on Unsplash

I was recently invited to write a haiku about deep differences at Goshen College. The invitation came from Eboo Patel, as part of the Deep Differences Project of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) and Heterodox Academy (HxA). Here’s what I wrote:

Deep differences lurk

We long to connect, wond’ring:

Who are you? Am I safe?

In this age of loneliness, our longing for connection is exquisitely real. We want to know and be known to one another. But real connection feels vulnerable, risky. The differences between us have become scary.

We have become afraid of deep differences because they too often manifest in words or other expressions that cause pain — wittingly or unwittingly. I submit that it is not our visible differences (race or ethnicity or gender per se) that inflict pain or cause anxiety. It is our viewpoints and how we express them.

I’ve also been thinking about the role of disgust in how we react to other people. Disgust is considered to be one of seven basic human emotions. I have thought a lot about disgust, having spent a good part of my research career studying hygiene and sanitation. Disgust plays an important role in protecting us from pathogens. There is a good reason why flies, slime and feces elicit disgust.

It is problematic however, when we begin to feel disgust toward a group of people. We recoil — the opposite of connection. Paul Ekman, the scholar of human emotions who consulted for the fabulous movie Inside Out, has written that societies often teach “the avoidance of certain groups of people deemed physically or morally disgusting and, thus, [disgust] can be a driving force in dehumanizing and degrading others.”

Some streams of Christianity, including many Anabaptist-Mennonites, emphasize purity as a form of morality. Consciously or subconsciously, an emphasis on purity increases disgust. “Do not touch that — it is disgusting!” is akin to: “Do not be/think/say that!” Reflect for a moment about what groups of people disgust you. When our differences become disgusting, it becomes nearly impossible to productively engage our diversity.

Goshen College is rooted in the way of Jesus, and Jesus was not fixated on purity. He broke Sabbath rules, healed bleeding women, had lunch with tax collectors, forgave adulterers, touched lepers, took children — probably even snotty ones with dirty feet — onto his lap. Ekman has found that the capacity to suspend our disgust may be essential to care and compassion; “This suspension of disgust establishes intimacy and may even strengthen love and community.”

Here’s an idea worth exploring: that at Goshen College we are so deeply rooted in Jesus that we invite puritanical evangelical conservatives and puritanical liberal progressives to suspend their disgust with one another. 

What would that look like? I’ll share more thoughts in my next blog.

Rebecca Stoltzfus