When you talk with someone whose views are quite the opposite of yours, what if you listened by considering that person to be not an opponent, but an individual “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God? Quoting Psalm 139:14, Dr. Stephanie Bennett offered that challenge Tuesday as the University kicked off Wordship, an initiative to cultivate respectful, healing conversation even during a fractious election season.
Faculty, staff and students gathered in the DeSantis Family Chapel for the first of four Tuesday evening sessions led by Bennett, professor of communication and media ecology and PBA’s fellow for student engagement. She was introduced by President Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, who birthed the concept of Wordship and coined the word to depict edifying use of words as one way we worship God.
“It’s pretty clear all across our country that we’re not just polarized; we’re pushing each other apart,” said Schwinn. “God really wants us to find the commonalities, not just the differences.” To learn how to do that, she said, the book study led by Bennett offers “a wonderful foundation.”
Each Tuesday in October Bennett is offering a lecture/discussion drawn from author Parker Palmer’s “To Know as We are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey.” Bennett opened the series with a definition of the word dialogue: “a conversation in which the participants’ primary goal is to pursue mutual understanding rather than agreement or solutions.”
The first step on the road to true dialogue, Bennett said, is wonder, listening to the other person because we have the curiosity of a scientist and the awe of the psalmist. When we look at the vastness of the ocean we recognize the majesty of God, Bennett said. “The same thing should happen when we look at each other: that sense of wonder, that we all have the divine stamp on us.”
Near the end of Bennett’s remarks she passed out a sheet of prompts to help the audience discuss such communication concepts. Wearing face coverings and seated for physical distancing, participants turned around to share their thoughts in groups of two to four.
One group included Dr. Jenifer Elmore, professor of English; and Connie Cooper Shepherd, executive vice president for strategy and planning. Their group talked about being vulnerable and “opening yourself up” in conversation, Elmore said. “And then Connie shared a saying that ‘the fist starves the hand.’ If your hand is formed into a fist, then you cannot shake hands or receive any gifts.”
The Wordship series continues Oct. 13, 20 and 27. Meanwhile, PBA Student Government is leading a related campaign called “Be Civil.” Designed to promote informative and respectful conversation during the election season, Be Civil is to include online and in-person events.
Photo 1: Dr. Stephanie Bennett, professor of communication and media ecology, speaks to those gathered for the first Wordship session on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 in the DeSantis Family Chapel. Wordship is an initiative to cultivate respectful, healing conversation.
Photo 2: Students discuss the communication concepts that Dr. Stephanie Bennett laid out during her first Wordship lecture. Bennett will lead Wordship sessions every Tuesday in the month of October.