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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Sharpening isn't comfortable

The past 72 hours have been a blur. Alongside the typical slew of exams and papers, pretty much every organization that I’m involved in decided to hold a large event. 

A few of the highlights:

Thursday, I was a moderator for Bridge the Gap, a series of small group roundtable discussions hosted by BridgeND. Covering topics such as gun control, healthcare and free speech, the event served as a means to foster positive, productive discussion among people of all viewpoints. 

Friday, I helped to put on a campus wide prayer and worship night through Iron Sharpens Iron, an interdenominational faith group affiliated with Campus Ministry. 

And today, I find myself spending my Saturday night sitting in a booth at LaFun, writing this op-ed just before its deadline. 

BridgeND and Iron Sharpens Iron have both been formative parts of my experience here at Notre Dame, their unique missions drawing me in at the beginning of my first year. 

BridgeND is the Notre Dame chapter of BridgeUSA, a national organization committed to constructive engagement, ideological diversity and solutions-oriented politics. Through our discussions and events, we attempt to fight polarization through open discussion. We do not expect, or want, people to hide their true beliefs. Rather, we encourage them to share their opinions and recognize the humanity of the other side. 

Iron Sharpens Iron is an interdenominational Christian group, meaning we have Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox members. Our name, Iron Sharpens Iron, comes from Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” In ISI, our mission is not to hide our differences, but instead to sharpen one another through them as we come together, united by the foundations of the Christian faith.

My two biggest leadership commitments — Director of Events for BridgeND and Iron Sharpens Iron Leadership — don’t seem to be that similar at first glance. However, they are met with very similar reactions when I talk about them with people from home — usually it's a laugh or a quizzical expression before they inevitably ask, “how does that work?” 

I come from Anderson Township, a seemingly irrelevant Ohio suburb where the local politics are so nasty that they repeatedly make national news. The feud over whether or not my high school mascot was a racist caricature was so contentious that The Wall Street Journal covered it (they did, however, end up changing it after my senior year. Go Raptors!). Just last year, a student from my district testified before congress when the school board canceled a high school's long-standing diversity day in fear that it was a guise for CRT indoctrination. My English teacher was told he could no longer read the news headlines to us at the beginning of class because they were too controversial, Facebook feuds over school board elections are notorious for distasteful personal attacks, and our location between urban Cincinnati and rural, conservative Clermont county creates a tangible tension. It is certainly not a place that is homogeneous in thought. However, it is a place where people are so consumed with the idea of  being “right” that they have deemed radicalism and gross rhetoric necessary in the fight for the morality of our beloved Township. 

Compared to politics, religion is not much of a source of division back home. However, like most important things, people were often unwilling to discuss their differences. As a Protestant, I was initially nervous to attend Notre Dame — I was scared to go to a school where the vast majority of students were of a different religious background than myself; I was scared to take Catholic theology classes; and I was scared to have my beliefs questioned and challenged. Anderson Township was a place where engaging with the other side in any matter felt unnecessary and I knew that coming to Notre Dame would serve as a needed challenge to the comfortable echo chambers I’d surrounded myself with in Ohio.

I love my hometown and I believe in the people there. However, it is not often a place where people are willing to speak to one another civilly about their differences. While we (often rightfully) criticize the “Notre Dame” bubble, I have found it to be a refreshing escape from the “Anderson Township” bubble. 

Notre Dame is a place that’s student body possesses an incredibly wide spectrum of opinions on pretty much everything, and BridgeND and Iron Sharpens Iron have served as places for me to come together with people that think differently than me because we are united by something bigger than ourselves. I could have chosen to join a political group that aligned more closely with my ideological views, or a faith group where others share my personal theology. However, the growth that I have experienced at Notre Dame would be impossible if it were not for the diversity of viewpoints that I have intentionally surrounded myself with. 

Notre Dame has shaped me because its people have shaped me, and its people have shaped me because I have chosen to listen. 

So, to answer the question of my friends from home: I’m not completely sure how it works. I don’t always know how to effectively work for multi-partisan bridge building and interdenominational unity, and I have fallen short several times. Often, I wonder if it would be easier to throw in the towel and retreat to the safety of my ideological and religious sects. However, what I can tell them is that it is worth it — that challenging your own beliefs through respectful discourse with others will make you and your community far better off, despite how difficult it may seem. Whenever I begin to doubt it, I think about my hometown. 

Leah Moody is a sophomore studying economics and philosophy with a minor in theology. She is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, but resides in Flaherty Hall on Campus. She currently serves on leadership for Iron Sharpens Iron and is the Director of Events for BridgeND.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets bi-weekly on Mondays at 7 p.m. in Duncan Student Center Meeting Room 1, South W106 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.