Friday, May 11, 2012
May 11, 2012: American Studies Insights, Part Four
[With work on my current book project ramping up to a fever pitch, at precisely the same time that the end of semester grading pours in—thanks, universe!—this week’s series will be particularly quick hits: each day a single American Studies insight, not necessarily earth-shattering but on my mind, courtesy of one of my classes this semester. Your insights and responses very welcome in the comments!]
Today’s insight is a bit different, and perhaps obvious: but it came to me with absolute clarity on Wednesday afternoon, as I said some last-class things to my English Capstone students.
I was talking to them about some of the skills and strengths that I think our shared passion for writing, reading, creating, teaching, talking about, and working with stories can help us find and hone and bring out into the world. I started with one that I find especially key, and about which I’ve written in this space quite a bit: empathy. And I used the example of Tuesday night’s disheartening North Carolina vote, which made same-sex marriage illegal in the state’s constitution; it would be impossible, I argued on Wednesday, for someone to empathize genuinely and fully with a person being affected by that law and still vote for it.
I didn’t know it at the time, but President Obama was at almost the exact same moment talking in an interview about how his personal evolution has led him to support the legality of same-sex marriage. That’s a very good thing, but as I had looked out into my group of graduating English seniors, my insight was even better: that I didn’t have the slightest doubt that every one of them are capable of that empathy, that in fact it’s a core part of who they are. Partly that’s because of their specific skills and interests, maybe; but mostly it’s because they’re young, and folks in this generation have that kind of empathy, across seemingly divided communities, very consistently and impressively. I’m proud of my President, but prouder still of my students.
Special post this weekend,
PS. What do you think? And with the series finishing, any insights you want to share?5/11 Memory Day nominees: A tie between Irving Berlin, the Russian immigrant who in the course of his 20th century-spanning life created some of the most enduring and powerful American songs; and Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who was also one of America’s most talented and charismatic public figures and educators.