As the presidential election draws near and rhetoric heats up throughout our polarized nation, Palm Beach Atlantic has introduced a new initiative for respectful conversation that heals and brings people together.
President Dr. Debra A. Schwinn has dubbed the new program Wordship, looking back at how the PBA founders christened the community service program Workship. “The founders set us on a precious path of worshiping God by serving others,” Schwinn said. “Now, at a time when our nation suffers so much division, let’s learn how to worship God by using our words to build up, not tear down.”
Wordship is to be an ongoing emphasis to cultivate a culture of edifying conversation – through words spoken, written and shared across social media. Schwinn points to this directive from the Apostle Paul: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4: 29)
Developing the craft and habit of Wordship will take study and practice, Schwinn said. She has engaged Dr. Stephanie Bennett to kick off the effort with four lecture/discussion sessions for the PBA family next month. Bennett will draw from author Parker Palmer’s “To Know as We are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey.”
Bennett, professor of communication and media ecology and PBA’s fellow for student engagement, will lead the Tuesday evening gatherings. She offered the following acronym for word as a preview of steps in this process for refining communication.
Wonder: to be caring and curious about the other person, instead of just watching for the first chance to blurt out my opinion.
Observation: really looking and listening to understand what’s on the other’s mind.
Revelation: from my listening, discerning some common ground and a place where we can meet in conversation.
Dialogue: two parties meeting in an open space, without pushing themselves on each other, but receiving what one another says.
Schwinn said she fears that last step, dialogue, is becoming a lost art in our society. “We must reclaim it,” she said, “because it is key to building community.” She commended the work of PBA student leaders who are rebooting their own Be Civil campaign in this election season.
Four years ago Student Government introduced Be Civil to promote informative and respectful conversation during the election season. Nicholas Timbinaris, Student Government president, said the group will host online and in-person events to help capture this goal.
Photo: President Dr. Debra A. Schwinn and Dr. Stephanie Bennett speak about the new Wordship initiative.