If there is one thing most of us can agree on, it’s that we live in a divisive, polarized time.
Irshad Manji is the founder of the Moral Courage Project, which teaches people worldwide how to talk about thorny issues productively instead of “canceling” each other. Her latest bestseller is Don't Label Me: How to Do Diversity Without Inflaming the Culture Wars (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2020).
“The Moral Courage Project…started by teaching people worldwide how to practice and develop moral courage,” Manji says. “When people hear the phrase ‘moral courage,’ we often think, 'Ah, speak truth to power!' Because that’s how Robert F. Kennedy and many others like him defined it. But today we are living in a time when media pushes the narrative that 'I don’t have any power.' Power always exists out there, in the politicians, in the police officers, in the tech titan and the media mogul and the corporate captain. In other words, everybody but me, so no wonder I have to lash back. That’s simply not true.”
According to Manji, part of the human brain is triggered with anger and fear when we hear an opinion different than our own. She says we live in a time when “technologies are amped up,” and that amps up our anger and fear reflexes, too. For that reason, Manji says we must speak truth to power not only to authority figures, but also to the ego part of our own brains.
To heal our divisions and polarization Manji says we must find common ground and approach each other with respect — and listen. We can't judge others by a single label, since no one can fit a label; we are all individuals, different from any other.
“That’s the kind of diversity that slices and dices into prefabricated categories,” she says. “Labels do not capture all of what you are. If we are going to be practicing diversity much more honestly, we have got to recognize first that all of us…are plurals. We are so much more than meets the eye. Instead of assuming things about one another based on the labels that our primitive brains give to each other, we’ve got to engage rather than assume.”
A campus-community event, "Conversations in Divided Times," is planned at 5 p.m. Tuesday, September 21, in Rooms 208-210 of the Bernhard Center at Western Michigan University. Manji will give a short talk and then lead a panel discussion. The event is free and open to the public, but advance registration is encouraged to ensure compliance with COVID-19 safety guidelines. Free parking is available after 4 p.m. in Lot 41 behind Sangren Hall.
Manji’s visit will also involve meetings with students, faculty, staff, university leaders, and members of the wider Kalamazoo community. Manji will talk about ways that we can learn to communicate effectively across divides and seek common ground while standing our own ground.
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