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  • Carroll Devine

From Chaos to Common Ground

For more than twelve years of being an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, I have been privileged to teach, and learn from adult students from forty-seven different countries. Recently having left that role to attend to another life calling, I find myself contemplating the wealth those years have brought me – wealth of both mind and heart – in cultural, social, intellectual, and emotional gifts.

From those years as well as years spent living abroad in various countries, I understand that despite the surface differences among us, and wide differences among our cultures, we all share at our core at least two commonalities. We are all born with the instinct for survival and the need to love and be loved.

These are driving forces, despite the odd forms that the instinct and the need sometimes take, and how they may be submerged or perverted. We can mine for the good and beautiful in people and their cultures. In learning to love, and loving to learn, we are better equipped to have meaningful and joy-full lives, no matter our circumstances, and to help others to do the same. So, I see the twin pursuits as our charge – the price of life.

Fortunately, if we are open, we can learn from everyone who crosses our path and every culture we encounter. It doesn’t matter if we speak different languages from those we meet.

On a recent trip to Montana, we visited a few of the places where Lewis and Clark overcame immense challenges, drank in the stunning ‘cowboy’ art of Charles Russell, and learned a new appreciation for the culture of some Native Americans through their perspective. The unifying “visions” of so many bled through these experiences, and I felt connected to all.

Perhaps this world could use more “vision” – described as “a mystical experience of seeing or knowing” by Kenneth Cohen. In his book “Honoring the Medicine – The Essential Guide to Native American Healing,” he wrote that in all Native American cultures, the most powerful visions come during the Vision Quest, typically a one-to-four day period of isolation, fasting, and prayer, in pursuit of guidance from the Great Creator.

In this world of chaos, we can find or make islands of sanity and restore our balance. Short of this type of Vision Quest search for vision, I wonder: How can we all do better at finding answers to the great questions and successfully meet on common ground?

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