Monthly Archives: January 2020

Awakening to notions of who one is and what one believes

On Saturday, January 18, I went to “Awaken 2020” at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. Kanye West and his Sunday Service Choir performed for just about an hour of the 12-hour event. To describe what Kanye and the choir did as a performance does not nearly capture the impact they had on the thousands of people in the stadium.

Awaken 2020 in Tempe Arizona

Awaken 2020 in Tempe, Arizona,
from Awaken 2020 Facebook page

What struck me most was how the music of the Sunday Service Choir seemed to have the power to compel thousands of people to lose themselves in a common trance. On the jumbo video screens, we saw close-ups of the faces of individual choir members as the setting sun shone brightly on their uplifted faces; we heard the hypnotic and mesmerizing drum beats in the music that insisted that bodies move in sync; we responded to energetic invitations of the choir director to sing along; we stretched our arms to raise our right hands in unity.

There were other great gospel choirs before I arrived and, throughout the event, various people famous in particular arenas spoke their thoughts about Jesus, God, and the Bible, and gave testimonies of personal experiences of depths and heights.

As a participant observer, I was impressed not only by the power of the music spectacle to invoke ecstatic feelings among people as diverse as the universe, but also by how it caused me to reflect on the critical role a trusted mentor might play in helping one to discern messages.

What if someone were severely criticized by family and friends for attending Awaken 2020 because they did not trust the veracity of Kanye’s conversion? Having experienced such good feelings only to be admonished later by those closest could cause doubts and questions about who and what to believe.

I’m using Awaken 2020 and a possible subsequent experience to point out the benefits of college beyond exposure to facts and critical thinking based on a preordained curriculum. On college and university campuses, mentors are found, more often than not, in student affairs and among the faculty, administrators, and staff. Whether or not they see themselves formally in such a role, these “mentors” offer students of all ages the opportunity to share who they are beyond the traditions and often admonitions of family and long-time friends.

Stepping out beyond one’s inner circle is a way to learn the essential skills for a well-lived life. Being in a community of learners provides opportunities to constantly weigh opinions of others against personal beliefs. The act of daily living among people who are not one’s natural protectors gives students opportunities to self-determine what is important to their own well-being and their image of themselves as citizens in community with others. Whether on campus or online, college provides the context and laboratory to experiment with notions of who one is and what one believes in light of others’ opinions and perceptions.

I understand that a college education is not necessarily for everyone and no longer the defining asset for a financially successful life. But for those who elect and are fortunate enough to attend a college or university, what is learned in dialogue with others or when someone just listens helps one look inside oneself for the personal integrity necessary to glean the rightness of a situation or belief. These “aha” moments can also bring the wonder and awe of a religious experience.

Searching for the essence and wholeness of sympathy, empathy, and compassion

As a licensed psychologist, certified professional counselor, student affairs professional, friend, and decent human being, I’ve had a lot of experience giving sympathy, empathy, and compassion to others. I thought I understood the sentiments intellectually and emotionally. However, being on the receiving end of these generous expressions of caring and love has caused me to think about these sentiments from another perspective.

While I have been powerfully impressed by the transcendent experience of selflessness and generosity born out of the deepest sorrow and despair, I’ve felt less than competent in demonstrating the fullness of my appreciation and gratefulness. I’ve addressed my discomfiture in this realization by grabbing onto the idea of “paying it forward.”

I appreciate the many expressions of sympathy for my losses; I am more than grateful for those whose empathy put them at risk of being in pain with me. And, for those who gave to me with passion, I owe the best of my life.

I want to think that being empathetic and compassionate don’t have to be selfless gifts that can contribute to what some label compassion fatigue. Instead, sharing empathy and compassion might be a symbiotic relationship that thrives when the recipient is the other part of the equation in a more active way.

Building on the fact that many givers of care say they get joy and good feeling from helping others, I have a deep desire to understand how to help myself and others make the relationship symbiotic and mutual so that the supporter gets a gift in-kind. One could say that I’m searching for the essence and wholeness of sympathy, empathy, and compassion.