Help, Companionship, and Community
September 18, 2008
Dear Members of Brooks College:
At our latest college tea, a number of you had the delight of hearing one of our recent alumnae, Ms. Emily Rodgers, reflect upon her life on the other side of graduation. Emily’s conversation with us was everything that you would expect from her if you know her. Her comments were wise beyond her years, informed by genuine reflection, and positively encouraging, just as her leadership last year as vice president of the college so often evidenced as well. For the benefit of everyone in Brooks College, I wanted to send along the opening quotation that framed her remarks. It is striking and profound.
When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know one another. How can they know one another if they have forgotten or have never learned one another’s stories? If they do not know one another’s stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover they fear one another. And this is our predicament now. Because of a general distrust and suspicion, we lose one another’s help and companionship. --Wendell Berry, “The Work of a Local Culture”
Wendell Berry expresses in these words a legitimate concern about contemporary culture. I believe, with Berry, that we should be alert to and alarmed at the ways in which our world, here at the end of modernity, too often deprives us of the benefits of community life.
I also believe with all of my head and heart that Brooks College provides for us the opportunity to be counter-cultural in an important way. We need not duplicate the predicament of modern culture, with the distrust and suspicion of its radical individualism. By building and remembering experiences of shared life, we can learn and tell one another’s stories. By learning and telling one another’s stories, we can grow in trust of one another. As we give ourselves in confidence to each other, we can embrace the help and companionship of a purposeful and life-giving community, one in which mutual friendship delights and sustains us.
Each one of us has choices to make in these regards every day. My choice is to learn, treasure, and trust alongside you. I hope that your choice will continue to be the same, just as you envisioned in applying to Brooks College. Please know that I am grateful to be with you and to share with you in a collegiate life marked by help and companionship. I cannot imagine it any other way.
All the best,
Douglas V. Henry, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Master, Brooks Residential College