This I Know: Growth

American asks four wonks to weigh in on a single topic

Illustra­tion by
Traci Daberko

illustrations of trees, a bible, a basketball player, and a foot stepping on weeds in a crack

Andrea Bonior, CAS/MA '02, CAS/PhD '04

Growth often is thought of as wholly positive, but I also help people stop the growth of something—typically negative emotions like resentment.

Resentment corrodes relationships, and usually originates with feelings that are tough to deal with: anger, disappointment, or envy. You might be tempted to ignore those feelings, like your hurt over a chronically late partner or a colleague's undeserved promotion. But avoiding and stuffing down the feelings grows the resentment.

It helps to be more mindful of your thoughts and allow yourself to feel what you feel, even when it is difficult, scary, or embarrassing. You'll move on much more quickly if you face feelings honestly; bottling them up makes them grow more powerful. Avoid creating an emotional pressure cooker. When you face your feelings, then you can choose how to deal with them in a much healthier way.

Bonior is a clinical psychologist and "Baggage Check" columnist for the Washington Post Express.

Mike Mastrota

Any time you're talking about a landscape, it's an ever-changing environment. Plants are a reflection of that environment. Our climate in Washington, DC, is nice in that you can watch a plant change and evolve. Every year it gets larger. Trees grow, and things that are under them grow as it becomes more shady.

You can actually observe the different stages of plant growth here on campus. One of the nice things about our campus is the stately oak trees that line the quad. They've certainly grown to a mature condition, which really says a lot about the university. It says the university's been here a long time, it's grounded, it's elegant.

You can see a tree that's over 100 years old on the quad next to a tree that's 10 or 15 years old. I think students are starting to connect how the university is a steward of the land, planting for future generations.

Mastrota is AU's landscape architect.

Leon Tolksdorf, Kogod/BSBA '16, Kogod/MS '17

I'm six-foot-six. Starting in elementary school, I've always been taller than most of my classmates. I grew constantly, it wasn't like I grew a ton over one summer. In the beginning when I was in elementary school I didn't like it too much because all of my friends were one height and I was just the tall guy that always stood out. When you grow up and stick out one way or another, it's not the best.

But then as I became better at basketball I started to value it more. I could dunk when I was 14. I guess I stopped growing about three years ago, so at this point there are definitely taller people on the team.

Being asked over and over again, "How tall are you?" gets annoying, but you get used to it. You hear lines like, "What's the view like up there?" It doesn't really bother me, though. At this point I'm perfectly fine with my height. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Tolksdorf is a forward on the men's basketball team.

Mark Schaefer

People in my profession talk about spiritual growth all the time, but rarely is it defined. Unlike other kinds of growth, there is little objective measure.

My earliest spirituality was handed down through parents and pastors, distilled into simple nuggets that I could handle. God is all powerful. If you're good you go to heaven when you die. But as I got older, the mantle of my childhood faith no longer fit.

Encounters with people of different religions, an honest appreciation for the teachings of science, and a thoughtful look at the suffering and injustice in the world made it clear that the faith of my childhood had to grow.

As adults, we have to forsake easy answers and become more comfortable with mystery, leave behind certainty in favor of doubt, and deemphasize belief in favor of faith. While that growth may cost us something in terms of simplicity or certainty, what we gain is so much more meaningful.

Schaefer is AU's new university chaplain—the 10th person to hold the post.