I teach creative writing to men at The Suffolk County House of Correction in Boston. Last week, a student read a poem that deplored men's treatment of women. This sparked a discussion of highly disparate views on how women should be treated by men. The student who read the poem was Muslim, and another student also, Muslim, insisted that women should be subjugated to men and "walk behind them". Another student insisted that women were the root of evil based on the story of Adam and Eve; while yet another student, the only white man in the group of one Latino and five African-Americans, pointed out that the two men who felt women were not equals, were only advocating what their ancestors had suffered as slaves. The discussion was cordial and restrained throughout, and I will say that I, as a woman and their instructor have never been treated by any of these men with anything less than respect and gratitude. I remained objective, as should an instructor and facilitator, and kept the focus of the discussion on the student's poem. I also guided the class to determine what might be at the heart of suppression and prejudice, like fear. I have, however, continued to think about this discussion. I was impressed by the comportment of my students showed, and told them so, but I was admittedly alarmed by some of their views. My role, however, is not to impose my views upon them and preach. Today, listening to the show, Rumi's words, and the subsequent discussion, gave me something to bring to my students that can help them examine and broaden their spirituality and their perception of women, themselves, and life. "The Value of Perplexity", the idea of "collecting that scatteredness", his themes of "separation and longing" the idea that "to speak the same language is to share the same blood" And the idea that there is no "original sin, only forgetting". Many of my students see the world solely in terms of good and bad. Rumi's work - work, I am presently only peripherally familiar with -- directly addresses much of what my incarcerated students struggle with and write about in their own poetry and prose. His work will provide me a way to help them understand their own prejudices, and behavior, and feelings that come, I believe, from lives filled with violence and unmet material and spiritual need, lives lacking, to a great degree, in love and nurturing. His work will, I believe, inspire their own. Writing, and all artistic, creative expression is a way to find the love that exists within us undiminished, and give it to the world, despite what we've done to this world and what it has done to us. If my students discover that love, feel it only for a moment, they are better for it.
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