Steve Sunderland – What Am I Skating Towards? Compassion

This is Steve Sunderland's response to What are you skating towards in 2012?


0008SunderlandStephen0282Teaching the concept of “compassion” has been a joy since September 11, 2001. This is my personal program to foster understanding and insight into what would prevent the return of a terroristic form of communication.

Now, ten years later, I look ahead and see if it makes sense to continue on this path. Looking up as I walk into the future causes me to “see” in different ways, especially the obstacles, the pitfalls, and the horror that may await me. I find compassion a good friend for the stroll ahead, especially compassion for the “untouchable” part of my self.

Anyone reading the new biography of Gandhi (Joseph Lelyveld, “Great Soul.” Knopf) will be brought up short by Gandhi’s lifelong attempt to be and become compassionate to those who were considered, “Untouchable.” He realized that this label is also applied to parts of ourselves that are hidden from view, the parts we might call, “evil,” “cold,” “violent,” or, “unforgivable.” Skating with these qualities may stop the journey, prompt digging a grave, and jumping in. Yet, I find something noble in Gandhi’s struggle to look up at himself, to look at the possibility of facing and transforming the limitations into gifts.

When I look ahead with joy, I think that I will be meeting friends who are compassionate, many who have stumbled, fell, and arisen to keep going toward health. Today, I met a teacher who wants to strengthen a school in Uganda by having Cincinnati kids come together to lead programs in fund raising, visiting the school, and in reflecting on why the school is in the future, our future. Her eyes dazzled with beauty as she described how the five young high school students she was with, persuaded her that this could be viable. Now, she is succeeding, and she feels “Ugandan.” Another person is recovering from the rape of his mother using reflection, humor, and deep spiritual belief.

We look at each other, across the table of compassion, smile and tell our stories, perhaps laying a foundation for next steps forward. A young teacher writes me that she is dedicated to working with people with challenges because she has something to offer and something to accept and learn. She is part of a small and powerful teacher-corp that are keeping the flame of inclusion alive even when separation and discrimination are so dominant.

Who can leave these friends, abandon them to the “market forces” that will try and sweep them away? I go forward holding hands with so many who reach out, laugh, and constructively dance ahead. Being 71 has taught me that what is touchable is those values of the heart, those feelings of hope, those smiles of an organizer of love. This is my “ground” to skate upon. In peace and gratitude. 

Steve Sunderland is a professor of Peace and Educational Studies at the University of Cincinnati and founder of an inclusive Peace Village which emerged out of the inner city riots in Cincinnati ten years ago.  His experience at peace making extends back to the civil rights movement in the American South and includes an active involvement with the Anne Frank Centre. Dr. Sunderland is the recipient of the King, Gandhi and Ikeda Peace Award from the Freedom Center and the Human Relations Award from the Council of American Islamic Relations.

Note: I am releasing individual essays from the collection, What are you skating towards in 2012?  on a regular basis. Upcoming contributions are by Jacques Dufresne, Linda Perry, Richard Bridge, Kirsteen Main, Ted Kuntz  and many others. You can access the accumulated essays here.

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