Respecting Diversity

It’s a very sad commentary on the state of our culture that people who are different and those who support them are branded the enemy and excoriated, humiliated, and persecuted in what now passes for public discourse. 

Any pretense of civility has disappeared, with the trend being aided and abetted by politicians and media outlets.

We are descending into a disgusting pit of muck where the preferred response to anyone who expresses a different opinion is to attack the person rather than the idea. 

“Ad Hominem” is the weakest form of argument and is indicative of an inability or unwillingness to address the real issues intelligently and rationally.

How radically different this is from the values of the Gospel that tell us that every human being is created in the image and likeness of the Creator.  Honouring this divine image in the very being of every person is the foundation of genuine social justice. 

Gospel justice demands a reverential respect for the dignity of every person, regardless of their cultural, social, religious, or political status.

The St. Paul’s crest.

It is a challenge for educators to direct our students toward a more Christian and more respectful approach to societal diversity, opening up opportunities for genuine encounter and dialogue that presumes the value of the person while being free to address the issues. 

We have to teach our students that it’s okay to have different opinions of important matters, that such opinions are free for debate and disagreement, but that it is not okay to attack the person who holds a different opinion.

We also have to teach our students that the diversity in the school community is a blessing that enriches the life of the community.  By entering into honest dialogue with those who are different we can become more deeply conscious of the beautiful kaleidoscope that makes up the human family.

Our school, St. Paul’s High School in Winnipeg, is a microcosm of this family, with people from many different backgroiunds bringing a richness of experience, vision, and personality to our community. 

But with that comes also the threat of a mean-spirited reaction fuelled by what is seen in the public forum.  To counteract this we have created a new approach with the support of students and faculty.

The Human Rights Initiative will invite students and teachers to gather for an open conversation about important social issues that we deal with in our school. 

The intention of this conversation is first to ensure that every student, regardless of his ethnic or cultural identity, religious adherence, or sexual orientation, knows that he is valued and appreciated as a member of our community, and second to encourage students to contribute positively and constructively to the promotion of human rights in the broader community.

If we are to obey the commandment to love one another as Christ has loved us, we can do nothing less.

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All photos courtesy of St. Paul’s High School.

Fr. Leonard Altilia, S.J. is the President of St. Paul's High School, Winnipeg, and the Assistant to the Provincial for Secondary and Pre-secondary Education.

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