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Look Into My Eyes

At the university seminary where Aaron and I were classmates and earned our MDiv degrees, the first-year curriculum included two semesters of required courses called “spiritual formation.” My first spiritual formation course was taught by the highly respected Rev. Dr. J. Truett Gannon. Dr. Gannon had a wide and deep toolbox of skills for dismantling the barriers and broadening perspectives of others. Like graduate students everywhere seminary students arrive with barriers and narrow perspectives begging for transformation, and Dr. Gannon gently but relentlessly applied his skills to helping us transform.

An early in-class exercise Dr. Gannon had us perform had a surprisingly quick effect. Our desks were always arranged in the shape of a large square with an open center so that we were inward facing, as if sitting around a large conference table. In this way each student had a straight-line view of each other. To begin this exercise and to ease us into the discomfort heading our way, Dr. Gannon required the class recite aloud the Lord’s Prayer with our eyes open and intentionally searching the faces of our fellow classmates. Perhaps like you, we were mostly used to saying this prayer with eyes closed, a closed-minded and inward-facing perspective. This part of the exercise was slightly uncomfortable the class later acknowledged, like public speaking.

Next, he had us again recite the Lord’s Prayer but this time while intentionally searching the eyes of our fellow classmates and emphasizing the words of mutuality – “our” and “us” and “we.” This was decidedly more uncomfortable because as we looked at each other’s eyes and spoke words of mutuality we made connections. These connections, with relative strangers we’d each previously been able to sequester behind the mental barriers we erected about them, couldn’t be avoided. This more intense part of the exercise, particularly the increased discomfort, the class later acknowledged and discussed with surprising uniformity; a uniformity that contrasted with our class easily distinct and divisible by gender, race, ethnicity, religious tradition, social location, and wealth.

For the third part of this exercise Dr. Gannon instructed the class to stand, and pair up as much as possible with a classmate of opposite gender or race. Facing each other almost nose to nose we were to again recite the Lord’s Prayer, simultaneously several times while emphasizing those words of mutuality and looking directly into the eyes of the stranger standing before us. (We couldn’t cheat by staring at the bridge of their nose, we were just too close to fake it.) I remember feeling the breath and words of a black classmate wash over my face, and as I focused on the iris and pupils of his eyes I serenely felt as if I could be staring directly into the eyes of the God we were both praying to. This most intense part of the exercise, the class later discussed, was painful for some but cathartic for the majority who felt both a genuine connection to a former stranger and an unexpected connection to the Divine that craves the “our” and “us” and “we” words we prayed into the face of each other.

We share this experience to show one way I and others were successfully introduced to a perspective of mutuality. This is an exercise that teaches how to see others (whichever ‘other’ you’re not accustomed to seeing and whichever ‘other’ you are yourself) and in that way see and understand how mutuality looks and feels. This is an exercise you can replicate yourself. Why would we want you and as many as possible to see and understand the look and feel of mutuality?

Because at the core of Partnership Economics is the Partnership Economic Ethic. The Partnership Economic Ethic comprises four elements, the first two being: 1) God provides and we partner; and, 2) To partner is to seek mutual benefit.

To see and understand the look and feel of mutuality, developed by some experience like the gift of Dr. Gannon’s exercise, we think a person then has reason to confidently comprehend that God provides and we partner, and that to partner means to seek mutual benefit. With that confident comprehension we think a person then has reason to see and recognize the benefits of Partnership Economics, enough to act on its ability to connect each of us to the other and to connect us each to the Divine that seeks our individual and collective best. Yes, even, especially, in the way we do business with each other.

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