Thursday, October 2, 2014

Gary Henrickson - Why do the humanities matter in today's world?

Gary Henrickson is a Dean of Academics at Minnesota State Community and Technical College, a member of the Minnesota Humanities Center Board of Directors, and a Vietnam Veteran.

We live in a world in which many individuals, organizations, and nation-states would answer essential questions for us: What is the good life? How do we live together? How can we all enjoy a good life? And sometimes demanding we accept their answers to be accepted socially or to keep our jobs, sometimes at the point of a gun. As a society, we ask our military to engage in conflicts that often turn on the very questions that the humanities pose. The military services do not attempt to answer such questions per se; rather, our service men and women enact our society’s political and military answers to such questions, taking on the risks, obligations, and privations that this entails, often paying a very high price. In addition, in the course of their duties, many of our service members must face those essential questions. In returning to civilian life, our service members bring their military experience to these questions and can often help the rest of us find new and better answers.

In the past few months, the Humanities Center has been working with American Veterans and members of our armed forces to recognize such existing and potential contributions to our society. The Humanities Center recognizes that our service members have voices to add to these discussions, and Veterans Voices represents a deliberate decision to recognize Veterans and gain from their experience. In 2013, the Humanities Center launched the Veterans’ Voices Award, in which men and women Veterans were honored for their contributions to our Minnesota communities. A discussion series with fifteen Minnesota Veterans took place over the winter of 2013-2014, and a “Veterans’ Play Project” culminated in a stage production based on actual Veteran experiences. More recently, the Humanities Center has co-sponsored a touring exhibit, “Always Lost: A Meditation on War,” focusing on the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. This past September, the Humanities Center hosted another award ceremony. Finally, due to the continued work of the Humanities Center, the Minnesota legislature has proclaimed October in Minnesota “Veterans’ Voices Month,” the first such honor in the nation.

In the media, Veterans are often treated either as heroes or as social problems. However, as service men and women return to the civilian world, they just as often bring with them skills, abilities, experience, and hard-won understanding about the world we live in. In doing so, Veterans are a resource. They can help with the essential questions that confront us individually and as a society, the very questions that the humanities continue to engage with now as for centuries before. Do the humanities matter in today’s world? Ask a Veteran.

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