Reaching Out Across Differences

By Seth Naicker 9-09-2008

I have paid keen interest to this current presidential race. Being from another country, the whole process is quite fascinating and emotive, as gifted rhetoric and track records are flaunted for the public eye and reflection.

However, as much as the presidential race and electoral process in North America is capturing and intense, a person who is listening closely to the issues and policies presented will find him or herself quite confused by the arguments that are presented by candidates and speakers from both the Republican Party and Democratic Party.

In South Africa there are several political parties, whilst for most U.S. citizens there are only three choices. I have views and beliefs and I am sure that every other person has a thought or viewpoint about the way life should operate. But, amidst all the viewpoints and perspectives there must be a call for a celebrating of the other, whoever the other may be.

This past July, my wife and I facilitated our third delegation of project Heita South Africa on an experiential learning assignment. The assignment involved learning related to inclusivity, diversity, justice, and reconciliation. Delegates from Bethel University and networking partners within the Twin Cities over the last three years have been journeying on an experiential learning adventure.

Author Charles Marsh, in Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer, explains:

Bonhoeffer argues that the integrity of the other, the other's irreducibility to the I -- "to my thoughts and possessions" -- can only be realized in a social, ethical dynamic. When I am encountered by the dialogical other in ethical action, I am arrested in my own attempts to master the world; for in responding to the call of the Thou, I am taken out of myself and repositioned in relation with the other. I no longer control the other, nor does the other control me, but we both discover our individual and social identities in the place of our difference" (1994, p. 69).

Marsh's description of people engaging the difference in each other is very much what has transpired with our delegates journeying to South Africa. Differences are engaged between fellow delegates as well as people across the oceans in South Africa. As learners, project Heita South Africa delegates have been thrust into a place that called each person out of their comfort zones, out of grounded foundationalist thinking, into the wondrous arena of engaging the other, where as Marsh explains, one is encountered by the dialogical other in ethical action.

This notion of entering into dialogue with people who think and operate differently must not be taken for granted, for it is seldom put to practice and rarely becomes a reality. In this current presidential race and election fever, may people amidst all the politics seek to enter the dialogical space, where we see and understand that our humanity is bound up in one another.

Seth Naicker is an activist for justice and reconciliation from South Africa. He is currently studying and working at Bethel University, in St. Paul, Minnesota, as the program and projects director for the Office of Reconciliation Studies. He can be reached at or

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