Education & Philosophy

Defining Your Mission: A Dialogue with Cynthia B. Dillard

Photo of Dr. Cynthia Dillard

Cynthia B. Dillard

The afternoon of Cynthia B. Dillard’s November 2023 Indigo Talk the Ikeda Center hosted a special Zoom dialogue session during which Dr. Dillard engaged with eight members of the Ikeda Center’s network of young scholars on topics relating both to their studies and to their individual spiritual quests. The discussion opened with each participant introducing themselves along with sharing about something that brings them hope and joy in these times. A couple common themes emerged from the introductions. The first was that the intimate connections we share with family and friends frequently can serve to generate these positive feelings. The other spoke of the hope and joy we feel when we learn new things or witness the creative activities of others, both within our professions and our personal lives. For her part, Dr. Dillard said that though she had anticipated saying something else, she really wanted to express that “you all bring me hope and joy.” It’s “always wonderful to hear the kind of aspirations that younger scholars and younger activists and younger learners have. [And] not just for themselves, but for the world.” What she originally meant to share, she said, was how she finds “great hope and joy in the children whom I work with in Ghana in my school.” She is very happy that they, with their creativity and caring and “truth telling,” represent our future.

For the remainder of the dialogue Dr. Dillard considered questions and topics raised by each of the participants. The first main topic grew out of the question of how Dr. Dillard incorporates mental health into her education work promoting larger causes such as justice and overall human dignity. She responded that, above all, she always thinks of education in terms of the whole person, in other words, “we can’t solve those problems without dealing with the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of humans.” She also spoke of the importance of working “from the heart,” for that is the piece that “will actually lead us more closely to justice, lead us more closely to a greater humanity.” And this practice of approaching others with an open heart and mind also leads to better education in the most fundamental sense. “It’s difficult to learn from someone when you don’t feel as if there is some sort of connection,” she said, adding: “We can’t teach who we don’t like, and we can’t teach who we don’t know. We can’t teach who we don’t think is useful or valuable in a society.” In terms of finding inspiration for teaching the whole person, Dr. Dillard said that she often finds it in the practices of indigenous cultures as well as those diverse cultures that have for too long been dismissed as having little to offer.

The other main thread had to do with finding or defining your mission in life, something of immediate concern to the young scholars in attendance. For Dr. Dillard, this is a “spiritual question,” saying: “What is your work that only you can do? You were sent here in this particular body, in this particular time, in this particular country, in this particular place, with this particular set of opportunities.” Really, all one can do is to trust their heart — but listening to the heart takes intention, she cautioned. In her case, said Dr. Dillard, she finds she needs to get into a place of “stillness” to hear the heart. And when you combine that with a “loving community” that supports you, then you really have the chance to grow. She finds this in many places, but especially so in Ghana. She also emphasized that making decisions and taking steps is important. You may feel, she said, that there are different paths before you, so: “Choose one. And do it. And you’ll know, in a very short period of time, whether that’s where you need to be. And the beautiful thing about being human, is that we get to choose again.” And don’t regret things that don’t work out. “Your lessons are yours,” she said, “and you’re learning them. And, I’d say just keep walking in them, [because] there’s no such thing as a waste of time.” 

Zoom screenshot of youth dialogue with Dr. Cynthia Dillard

Dr. Cynthia Dillard in dialogue with youth from the Ikeda Center community