Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Taking the Leap

by Project Interfaith Porgram and Communications Intern, Michelle Morrissey.

Every so often, situations arise in which we pause a moment before proceeding.  It may be a new experience, a milestone, a paradox.  Maybe it’s not exactly dread or procrastination (though, these tendencies usually come into play), but we understand a certain significance about the impending occasion and feel some level of anxiety.  We stop, drawing reflection, contemplation, imagination.   What should I do?  How should I do it?  How can I do it?  Can I do it?!  Hesitation sets in, we know we will confront this point in time, but we have a hard time visualizing anything beyond The Instance.  When have you felt like this? 

Sometimes, I experience this before I talk to someone.

It’s not that I’m socially incompetent or that I don’t like to encounter unfamiliar people, places, or things.  On occasion, certain conversations have a way of stopping me in my tracks, halting my thoughts and actions.  Recently, I was embarking on a discussion with others from different faiths.  Ah, the interfaith conversation.

Why do we feel like this?  After my recent encounter, I wanted to pick apart this anxiety I had just faced.  Understanding the fear, hesitation, and ambiguity I experienced might shed some light on this interfaith dialogue task-at-hand challenging our communities and connections; our world today.  As I mulled over what happened, I began to pinpoint some themes.  First, and foremost, there was a great respect for my conversants and fervent desire to actually have a conversation in the first place.  Aside from the disparities in age, profession, and knowledge, I felt primarily intimidated by the admiration and curiosity I had for my diverse interlocutors.  That’s right: my anxiety about talking with someone different than myself came from my appreciation for their differences.  Shouldn’t this have made it easier?  Sometimes, it’s not that simple; the second part of my fear consisted of my own self-doubts.  I don’t know what this person believes or how they conceptualize the world around them, I thought, I don’t want to assume or offend or say something completely wrong.  So, essentially, I went from wanting to know more about someone different from me to being scared of not knowing anything about their differences.  All in a matter of seconds.  Fear happens fast, doesn’t it?

Lastly, in situations like this when you’re on the edge of a cliff (which, of course, is figurative in this instance though it might seem literal), you recognize that there’s only one thing between you and the future conditions: your next move.  If that’s not anxiety-provoking enough, there’s the subsequent realization that the aforementioned move entails a “stepping up” of sorts.  Muster up your courage, your confidence, your fortitude; time to put it to the test!  How do you proceed?

Embrace it.  Accept it so that you can move beyond it.  Only after I acknowledged my fear was I able to overcome the challenges it presented.  What a relief it was to channel this uncertainty and doubt into talking and listening.  A sense of calm immediately surfaced, anxiety transformed into engagement.  Inhale, exhale.  Deep breath.  Go.  Funny thing about fear: it can leave as quickly as it comes.   

Michelle received her bachelor's degree in cultural anthropology from Seattle University.  Before graduating she worked with various student organizations offering events and training surrounding topics of health, diversity, and sustainability. She was also fortunate enough to study abroad twice in Europe. During the summer of 2010 she traveled to France for an education submersion in culture, history and the arts. She was happy to find out that she knew enough French to survive her short stay. During the summer of 2011 she studied at the Karl-Franzens University of Graz for intensive coursework in multiculturalism, globalization and identity.  She has gained much experience in event planning and peer education through her intern work with Joslyn Museum as well as through her appointment as Multicultural and Awareness programming chair of the Seattle University Student Events and Activities Council. There, she helped to create diverse, informative, and enjoyable events for the campus community. Michelle is passionate about culture and its many implications within communities. She is thrilled to have found her latest opportunity as Programming and Communications Intern. She is excited to contribute to Project Interfaith's community outreach, relations, and events. Michelle likes to practice yoga, laugh with family and friends, and explore cities.

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