PUBLISHER'S NOTE: In the attempt to foster sincere and productive Left-Right dialogue, readers of this blog were invited to share their stories of political and religious awakening. The purpose of this kind of storytelling is to enable all of us to understand the pains and joys of self-discovery within contexts of faith and citizenship. This form of personal sharing is designed to help us realize that we have all experienced pain caused by political opponents, but also affirmation and encouragement from mentors. Other readers of this blog are encouraged to submit their stories for future publication.
Today, I'm thrilled to be able to publish this first installment, a poignant and profound perspective offered by Jasmine Koehn, a dedicated activist in Colorado who is working hard to combat sexual trafficking and other forms of human slavery. Ms. Koehn has worked frequently with the Not For Sale Campaign, which you are encouraged to learn more about. Jasmine will gladly field questions in the comments section... not just about Not For Sale, but this marvelous essay she's crafted. I'm sure she'd welcome contributions you could make to NFS, which has numerous chapters in the United States. -M.Z.
SHARING STRENGTH, NOT INVECTIVE
Jasmine Koehn, Guest Contributor
Firstly I want to thank Matt for always being a gracious host of discussions and a wonderful example of a listener and a person who walks his talk. For one such as myself, a self-proclaimed moderate with conservative tendencies it is incredibly refreshing to have interactions and discussions with Matt, we do not always agree on our approaches to issues political or otherwise, but we can have civil conversations and walk away from said conversations with a better understanding of where the other person stands, but for me at least, also where I stand and why. I do not say all this simply to offer praise, though such praise is deserved, it also serves to build the base of the theme of this post. Matt is the antithesis to most of the people I have interacted with in the political realm.
It is important to understand my background because it explains my current worldview and why I place such an emphasis on conversation and seeing both sides of any argument. I was raised in a loving Christian household in the great state of Colorado. My Protestant faith has shaped me both as a spiritual person, but also the interactions with and within the Church have had a profound impact on my growth as a person.
As a child I participated in all the Church events, AWANAs (AWANA is a national evangelical Christian organization) and children’s choir. I went to Sunday School, and because I was homeschooled, I also attended a weekly Christian based “school” to try and keep me from turning into a weird reclusive homeschool child. Throughout my early years, life was simple fun and I had a wonderful group of friends. Middle school occurred and like the story of many children in America EVERYTHING went belly-side up. In case you aren’t aware girls are TERRIBLE creatures (sub-human really) during middle school and my friends (and myself as well I’m sure) were no different. I also started attending a charter school in my hometown in seventh grade. Between sixth and eleventh grades I changed churches several times, had several of my friends abandon me and became politically active.
On the surface these three events seem unconnected but for me they were related. I learned the pain of betrayal (something that is central to politics, sadly) and I learned firsthand what it meant to be an outsider. I spent several years as an outcast both at school and church, events which only furthered my heart for “those without a voice.” These years taught me the need to recognize the pain of others because none of my friends saw or cared about my pain. It was also during this time that I learned the art of seeing things from the other perspective. I have always been empathetic and a people pleaser – I hate to blame others for their faults and I will blame myself first in order to defuse an uncomfortable situation. I never justified the actions of my friends, but I understood at times why they made the choices they did and decided not to hate them for those decisions. It took a greater amount of time to forgive those choices, but I could understand.
Fast forward to my senior year and you will see me at my high school as the founder and president of the Young
Republicans Club. I was also one of three conservatives in my AP Human Geography class (my teacher constituted one of the other two). I was in this class during the Bush-Kerry election and I will never forget the day after Bush was re-elected. The anger and hate that filled the room was palpable and at one point that anger boiled over and was directed at me. The reason why I will never forget that day or that class is not because of the attack, but rather because of the president of the Young Democrats Club. He stood up for me and told the others that I had a right to my opinion.
A different day in that same class saw a heated discussion pit myself and my fellow conservative against everyone else and again things got heated; invectives were hurled, and I could not speak because of the overlapping yells coming from my classmates. Again I remember this day because the President of the Young Dems never treated me like that and at the end of the day he wrote me a little note apologizing for not standing up for me more in class, and to be honest I was surprised not because he apologized but because he had nothing to apologize for. This young man gave me hope for my future, he encouraged me to stand by my political beliefs and NEVER treated me as an inferior for having a different opinion. He gave me the strength to be vocal in college and to believe that perhaps I would have the pleasure of meeting another person who would not agree with me but would be willing to accept me anyway.
In college that person came in the form my wonderful history professor. I miss him terribly: He could be trusted to care for me when I was having a rough day while also being willing to challenge me and discuss everything from politics to religion without ever judging my answers. I thrive in such a situation, I love being challenged because it only further solidifies my base when I realize I am right and it helps me correct my wrong assumptions. His classes were phenomenal, but I will ALWAYS remember him for the conversations we had and for his open-minded acceptance of my strong and unwavering stand regarding my faith.
As an aside, my faith defines me as a person, but I can and do separate my faith and politics. I understand the difference between what is morally black and white and what is feasible in the realm of politics. This has on a fair number of occasions gotten me in trouble with my more conservative-minded friends, but like everything else in my life I stand by my convictions and respect my friends for standing by theirs.
Matt has been the most recent acquaintance who listens and strives to understand and find the common ground between all our differing views. He, as well as the others, continues to give me the strength to face those who ridicule both my faith and my politics. I bite my tongue and try to find the common ground because I know I am not alone in that endeavor, that not all liberals think and act like some of my classmates at graduate school, that not all professors spew hate against neo-cons and use their position of power to attack and brainwash, and that even high school boys can recognize the value of friends across the aisle. I would much rather discuss these positive interactions than dwell on all the negatives that have occurred even since starting graduate school. *gets on soap box*
It is easier and more acceptable in society to dwell on the hurt, to hold grudges and to look for revenge opportunities. We love to tell stories about the pain that has been inflicted on us by friends, family, even strangers – and at times, it is incredibly necessary to share one’s pain – but in the long run focusing only on the differences, only on the pain, the anger, the invectives, only serves to cause more pain. We lose patience with an entire segment of society – right, left, the church – simply because of the stupid actions of a few. The culture war that is tearing this nation apart is fueled by the constant generalization of groups based on their radical elements, blaming the whole for the sins of a few.
I am not an idealist; I will not pretend to believe that one day we can all get along, I believe that mankind will continue to fight with itself because mankind is selfish, but that does not mean that I will fall into that trap. I will hold myself to a higher standard and I will encourage my friends to hold themselves to a higher standard, and although it won’t change the world, it might change my school, and more importantly it WILL change one life. The people that I have mentioned in this post changed my life; I will strive to provide a similar hope for the people I interact with, because that is what I can do.