Assume Good Faith: Alternative Spring Break 2013

By: Trishla Jain

March 18, 2013

From March 2-9, 2013, a group of twelve Georgetown students and two Georgetown faculty members traveled to Tucson, Arizona to participate in an Alternative Spring Break immersion trip focused on the topic of immigration. Throughout the week the group had meetings with different key players in the world of immigration in order to expose themselves to a multitude of perspectives on this issue from people who are engaged in the realities of immigration firsthand. The post below is a reflection about this trip that was written by one of the participants.

Before we started our first reflection in the dance studio at the San Miguel Cristo Rey High School in Tucson, Arizona, one of our trip leaders, Chris, gave us an overview of the rules of reflection. I had heard many of them before, but there was one thing that he said that struck me: assume good faith. When I heard that, it meant to me that even when someone says something that may seem to have been made with bad intentions, you should always initially assume they had good intentions. Chances are they did not mean for it to be taken in a bad light and they just misspoke or did not fully realize the implications of what they were saying, so you should wait until you know more before making any judgments about them. Although I internalized the rule at that moment, I did not realize at the time how that idea would come to inform my perspective of our entire trip.
As we went through our week in Tucson, we met with people who worked on all sides of the immigration issue and had vastly different perspectives regarding it: judges who preside over Operation Streamline cases, public defenders, environmentalists who analyze the ecological impact of the border wall, the Bishop of Tucson, ranchers whose property skirted the border between Arizona and Mexico, people who run detention facilities for migrants, members of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who run humanitarian organizations in the Arizona desert, and even deported migrants themselves. These meetings were difficult to grasp because everyone was saying something different and it was hard to know who to believe and what grounds I should have for believing one person over another. Everyone that we met seemed like a genuinely good person and their generosity was always evident in their gracious hosting of our group, so I did not know how to deal with the possibility that maybe some of these people were knowingly not telling us the truth when our only purpose was to learn.

I spent the entire week searching for a way to reconcile these two notions: the fact that we were coming into contact with good people who have devoted their lives to these jobs—the true believers, as one of the participants on the trip called them—and the idea that many of them were telling us competing versions of the truth. At our last reflection, I realized that the reason I had such a difficult time this week is because I continued to assume good faith of the people we met. That is not to say that my faith was misplaced in any way, but this idea made it hard for me to find fault with anyone because not one person we met gave me a reason to doubt him or her. I began to appreciate the fact that all of these people had their own experiences and therefore their own versions of the truth, and that even if they conflicted with one another that did not necessarily mean that they were not all part of a larger truth. Furthermore, I started to understand how this idea of assuming good faith had benefited all of us during that week and probably in many other areas of our life as well. When we attended these meetings and asked questions, we always received answers and we never had anything but kind words directed at us. These people did not know us at all, but their perceptions of us always operated under the assumption of good faith, and they understood that we were truly there to learn and not to attack them in any way.

Despite learning about all of these different perspectives, at the end of the week, I did not have all of the answers regarding the immigration debate. In fact, I really did not have very many answers. And it took me the entire trip, but I realized that’s okay. I did not need to come away from the trip with all of the answers or the ability to solve the immigration debate in order to have learned something about immigration and about myself, or to have had a truly meaningful experience. I did come away with a better understanding of the power of assuming good faith, which will inform my life moving forward. And, I learned that while answers are always nice, they usually only lead to more questions.
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Assume Good Faith: Alternative Spring Break 2013