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National columnist offers insight to heal divided communities

Ohio State hosts conversation on weaver movement

New York Times columnist David Brooks encouraged members of The Ohio State University community during a public conversation this week to make small but intentional changes in their immediate surroundings to help improve the social fabric of the nation.

Brooks was the keynote speaker for “Becoming Weavers in a Divided Nation,” part of the university’s Education for Citizenship dialogue series. He spoke to university students, faculty and staff about the weaver movement, which attempts to shift the culture in the United States from one of hyper-individualism and personal success to one that puts relationships at the center of our lives.

“When you have a culture that is hyper-individualistic, where we see ourselves as autonomous, then you have a culture where there’s loneliness, a culture of division, a culture of 30% rise in depression, 60% rise in teenage suicide, and when you leave people naked and alone, they do what their evolutionary roots tell them to do – they revert to tribe,” he said.

That sense of tribalism culminated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists earlier this month, Brooks said.

One way to reverse this trend of individualism, he said, is to focus more on selfless acts in the community – it can start as simply as inviting your neighbors over for dinner or finding an organization in your neighborhood in need of volunteers and offering them help.

President Kristina M. Johnson hosted the discussion with the goal of supporting a more tolerant and thoughtful community. She said the weaver movement could help address the divisions in our country from a different angle and help combat the loss of social interactions and fraying relationships within communities.

“If we are not fighting discrimination on our daily rounds, we’re tolerating a society in which the quality of our neighbors’ lives depends on the color of their skin,” she said. “We live in cities and towns with deep economic divides, which means that even if they share the same zip code, those with higher education degrees and those without sometimes seem to live in different worlds.”

Brooks and Johnson were joined by students, faculty and staff who shared how they’ve engaged in “weaving” work and supported dialogue in their community. Speakers included Sarah Cole, Moritz Chair in Alternative Dispute Resolution; Norman Jones, dean and director, Ohio State Mansfield; and Jacquelyn Meshelemiah, associate vice provost for diversity and inclusion.

Speaker Lena Tenney, diversity, equity and inclusion officer, College of Pharmacy, noted that much of the work in the weaving community is dependent upon creating a space for all the weavers.

Tenney said the chant of “No justice, no peace” during protests last summer hammered home the importance of equality as work continues to build stronger communities.

“It rang through our streets and, for many of us, our hearts,” they said. “The idea behind that phrase is simple yet complex. We cannot have peace in a society without first having justice. We cannot weave together our threads of differences without first having equity.”

In his remarks, Gene Smith, senior vice president and Wolfe Foundation Endowed Athletics Director, said respecting diversity of thought and experience is critical to moving forward as a community. He pointed to the diversity of student-athletes on the football team and how they supported each other this season and during the protests over the summer.

“We understand the conversations that go on in the locker rooms about all the issues that we faced in 2020. We know our football players, for example, have those debates in the locker room,” he said. “But they walk out of that locker room and they come together, come together as Buckeyes, to represent themselves, their families, and The Ohio State University toward one common goal, to overcome their opponent.”

Brooks concluded the evening with some hope and promise toward achieving that common goal and overcoming divided communities.

“We can’t change the world all at once, but we can shift norms, we can shift how we think and how we should behave. The #MeToo movement shifted norms. Black Lives Matter shifts norms. The environmental movement shifts norms,” he said. “The culture changes when a small group of people find a better way to live and the rest of us copy them. In my view the weavers have found a better way to live and if we copy them a little, then the culture will shift in a big way.”

The Education for Citizenship Initiative aims to inspire the university community to engage deeply, with integrity and respect, when expressing ideas and beliefs, be it in word or action. The initiative reflects the university motto, “education for citizenship,” and the mission to develop informed citizens who are able to integrate what they’ve learned in the classroom into their community.

Subsequent discussions are planned for Jan. 28 and Feb. 4. Details are available on the Education for Citizenship Initiative website along with resources for respectful and productive dialogue.

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