Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lisa Laliberte Belak - What do the humanities mean to you?

Lisa Laliberte Belak is the Board Chair of the Minnesota Humanities Center.

Over time, the meaning of the humanities has changed for me. Originally it was the challenging class I had during my senior year of high school. Then it was about my art publishing career working closely with artists, showing their work and telling their stories. After that, it was an awareness of the MN Humanities Center and an interest in Board service. Now it’s a way to connect, engage and understand the people that I work with and represent, as a city councilmember in Roseville, MN.

In the past 13 years, I have come to believe that the humanities are intrinsic to a strong, representative republic which we strive for in this country. Without the humanities, we cannot truly grasp the ideals of freedom and dignity, the obligations of citizenship, the aspects of a good flourishing life and other elements of a genuinely human experience. The humanities help us address the challenges we face together in the growing complexity of our families, communities, and as a country.

How the humanities help me as an elected official – As a city council member, I am elected to represent the individuals in my community. Connecting with people, building relationships and knowing their stories help me to do that. The humanities help me to continually learn and grow as a public servant, to further inform myself and improve the work that I do. Additionally, the humanities provide me with the ability to deliberate about issues and to reflect, argue, debate and think of my community as a whole. The humanities have laid a foundation for my creative and rigorous critical thought processes. This foundation aids in my problem solving and decision making processes and helps me to consider the city’s interconnectedness with other layers of government and to weigh the needs of some against the limits of responsibility by others.

How the humanities help our citizens – People need to know they are empowered actors in their own lives; that they have the power to affect change by being an engaged, active and informed citizen. Our communities function at their best when citizens are capable of independent, critical, innovative and compassionate thought; understand their responsibility to be part of an informed society; and empathize and respect the ability to participate equally among their neighbors.

The humanities help create citizens who reason together about the choices; think critically about what is presented, and know it’s okay to criticize tradition, question authority and hold leaders accountable. And, while Americans of divergent views can always convene for passionate dialogue and debate, it is the humanities that create a safe, shared space for that respectful and effective civic dialogue and well-reasoned debate to occur.

So…. what do the humanities mean to me? For me, the humanities have evolved from a class subject taught in high school to an indispensable set of tools and guiding principles for how I conduct myself as a citizen and public servant, and for how I live my life and connect with others.

I strongly believe that society should reinforce the ongoing importance of the humanities throughout one’s life. For that reason, I appreciate that the MN Humanities Center is putting a light on civic engagement through the Toward a More Perfect Union program. Locally-shaped and facilitated community dialogues are taking place in 9 different cities throughout the state. These conversations allow Minnesotans of diverse backgrounds and experiences to explore together, the United States Constitution as a living document in their lives. The four possible discussion topics include the relationship of the federal government and the states, individual freedoms and the Bill of Rights, equal protection and due process under the law, and popular sovereignty (We the People!) and the separation of powers.

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