An Interview with Secular Student Society at Miami University — Part 4
Jacobsen: There was another point on universal education. In particular, the improvement of our situation. What do you mean by universal education, improve, and the situation being improved?
SSM: That is a loaded question [Laughing].
SSM: [Laughing] So, universal education is accessible, neutral in its beliefs, and it provides meaning to people’s lives by imparting a sense of fulfilment through inclusion.
Education stressed very young in a person’s life can improve their situation. Improving your situation means access to basic rights, and being aware that you do in fact have a right to these things. Universal education is a way to lift people up so they can effectively carry out their goal or mission that they would like to do for the world.
Progress comes through universal education. Working towards providing this for everyone is good for the beneficence for mankind. It seems like a no-brainer.
Jacobsen: To improve the situation for mankind, or human kind, do you think some people are setup to be more compassionate, and why?
SSM: That is a tough question. Something I’ve been thinking over. If you consider professional athletes or musicians as people who make significant advancements within a specific field, they have a developed skill set that is very rare.
You can’t expect everyone to be Mozart or LeBron James. But because they exist in the first place, it means there is that ability to have that high achievement within their area. Why can’t we expect that within the realm of compassion? Of humanism?
I think the only way to foster humanism, to see that progression towards improving your life, and showing compassion and neutrality in how we treat each other is universal education. Until one day the significant gains made by these exceptions become commonplace, but I certainly won’t discount people who had circumstances that set them up with a disposition towards compassion.
Jacobsen: You have an expertise in psychopathology. For those reading this, it does not mean an expertise in psychopaths, sociopaths, and antisocial personality disorder types in general. When I focus on people being more set up for compassion, I think of individuals, akin to but not as hereditarily strongly, with schizophrenia, which is probably 80% hereditary.
For the most part, and you would know better than I would, we are the compassionate species. We build very large social networks, from which we can build tribes, cities, metropolises, and states.
SSM: Actually it does. Psychopathology is an effort to understand the genetic, biological, and social causes of mental disorders. Any type of abnormal pathology.
Psychologists are still trying to figure this out. What extent of disposition is affected by nature versus nurture.
And I agree, we are a compassionate species. When there are violations of humanist ideals, I don’t focus on individual blame, but ask where did we go wrong as a society to not educate and prepare against these violations? A collectivist ideal I bring is not to fault the individual, but, “Where did society have a lack of compassion or have a misunderstanding and a lack of inclusion? How can we improve that?”
I think that’s how I was drawn to my field of studies.
Jacobsen: I want to draw this back into your compassion — how you’d see worms washing out of the ground. Can you expand on that?
SSM: I have always noticed small details, what others didn’t. That very trait is what made me want to pursue behavioural analysis. In this line of work, it is necessary to notice the small details people inadvertently divulge during interaction, how that can be displayed within their behaviour, and what this says about their general state.
As a child, I noticed a lot. I am very perceptive, listening, and observing first then asking the right questions to put myself into the mindset of whatever I was observing.
In the playground, as an example, I didn’t want to be part of any hurt that would happen to living things because I didn’t want to be ignorant of it.
Even as a kid, I thought, “What will even happen to those worms on the sidewalk? Tomorrow they’ll be dead and dried up to become something crusty on the sidewalk that is kicked around.” The indignation I felt! Even as a small kid, I’d spend my recess on those rainy days picking up each worm and putting them safely back in the soil.
It just felt right. I have the ability to move them back into the soil and try to repair whatever damage the rain caused. The worms just happen to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. I hope that one day if I find myself in a similar circumstance, the same mercy would be extended.”
I felt this obligation upon myself to do something. It was not out of my way. It felt like second nature [Laughing]. This compassion, is it ingrained? Or is it because of where I grew up? Or who I’ve interacted with?
I don’t have an answer to that. That is one we’re still working on.
Jacobsen: Thank you. You wanted to expand more on the issues at Miami University. One of them would be combatting or working against the dehumanization of everyday workers on campus. Those that would be cleaning toilets in campus dorms, janitorial staff, food service workers.
SSM: Against those on the margins of campus as well, on the fringes. There have been instances of inflammatory material like racist and nativist posters hung around campus. That would be another loss because it means we failed, the community failed, for them to think it was acceptable to hold that belief and act on it.
As students, we are at pivotal developmental moments in our life — we are still impressionable. And to crush humanist compassion, to take that away, is a disservice to them and everyone in the community.
Jacobsen: Success would be through inclusion. What is your definition of “inclusion”?
SSM: Inclusion is the validation of someone’s experience through acceptance. Within that, the subsequent improvement of their experience through education.
Through education, we learn inclusion; by educating someone, we practice inclusion. Inclusion is proximal compassion, and must be considered a right if we want progress.
It is a naïve wish that everyone would get that inclusion, or feel that inclusion. It is something to work towards collectively.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time.
SSM: Thank you.