Building bridges. Building bridges between opposing groups. Building bridges between opposing groups who oppose and demonize the other group(s) because they don’t know the people in the other group. Building bridges between various disparate groups of people is what our nation so desperately needs if our democracy is to survive and flourish in the future.

Building bridges was the topic of conversation between a Bakersfield College colleague and myself a few weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about it regularly since then.

We were talking about the great need for people to come together and find workable solutions for all people and what the college could do as a public institution to provide a space to explore the need for building bridges, to learn how to build bridges and to put those lessons into practice by bringing various groups together to discover their common interests and enrich each other from their different life experiences.

Besides being a science professor at BC, I am also an active member of a United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, and I’ve given talks about building bridges but those are between science and religion. The UMC denomination as a whole has been struggling with inclusion, and it will be holding a special general conference bringing thousands of delegates and visitors from all over the world in mid-February to St Louis, Missouri, to finally decide how the church will move forward in the future, either as one body or as separate denominations.

As part of the process leading to the special conference, the UMC created a group made up of people from across a very wide spectrum of theology on human sexuality and inclusion to build bridges. Over an 18-month period, it created the options that will be decided upon at the special conference. Did it come to agree with each other theologically? No, but it came to value and love each other anyway. How? By spending time with each other, dialoguing honestly with each other and praying together. Bridges are built between opposing groups by people getting to know each other face-to-face and creating relationships built on trust. It takes time.

I hope that BC will join in the year-long celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday with forums and other learning events in conjunction with what the local Gandhi Committee for Truth and Non-Violence is doing. Maybe, when they bring Arun Gandhi (grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and founder of ServiceSpace) to Bakersfield in September, we could have him explore with student leaders from BC and CSUB a leadership model based on building bridges instead of dividing people or create in the student leaders the tools they need to unlock the power of compassion in the people they lead.

Goodness knows that if we all really lived out the Great Commandment to “love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as ourself,” the world would be a better place for all.

Nick Strobel is a professor of astronomy at Bakersfield College and writer of the bimonthly star-gazing column. He can be reached at nstrobel@bakersfieldcollege.edu.