Let’s talk about it. No, not about the weather. I am talking about the topics that make us uncomfortable. The conversations that result in harsh disagreement, draw a rift across generational divides, and culminate in fiery resentment.
Day in and day out, scenes of political arguments flash across our screens. The intention behind broadcasting these arguments is often sound and justified – exposing Americans to the scope and complexities of political viewpoints is vital for developing societal awareness. Much of modern political discourse, however, unfurls egregiously in execution.
My family routinely congregates in the living room and turns on the television to watch the news. Tonight, it is the senator from California and the congressman from Texas, battling without mincing words in front of a virtual audience of exasperated viewers — including myself. Neither party is listening to each other nor allowing the other to complete their full sentence. The news anchor frantically tries to halt the persistent bickering and get a word in, yet fails. In frustration, my mother reaches out for the remote and switches to another channel.
The way perspectives are communicated in America must be fundamentally transformed.
We fail in nearly every aspect of how humans are supposed to act toward one another. We are unable to explain our individual perspectives without being interrupted, judged, or stereotyped. We hardly engage in dialogues without preconceptions in mind. We shutter our minds to the mere idea of altering our opinions, even upon accumulating newfound insight.
These statements are not philosophical preachings: they are candidly visible in reality today.
I remember speaking to my friend about our political views a few weeks ago in my dorm. Specifically, we were discussing our opinions on the hot-button issue of abortion. It quickly became apparent that our beliefs lay on opposite ends of the spectrum — still, the conversation was incredibly fulfilling. Thoroughly grasping the life experiences that had shaped his perspective prompted me to recognize how our surrounding awareness of the world influences the viewpoints we bear.
The discourse my friend and I engaged in was truly insightful, particularly in how I was compelled to back up my beliefs concretely in response to his assertions. I genuinely appreciated our conversation and the time I dedicated to understanding his mindset. It is our individual responsibility to share the understandings we have been lucky enough to acquire. What is equally, if not more important, is that we also contemplate the cherished perceptions of the individuals surrounding us.
As my conversation with my friend drew to a close, my friend expressed gratitude for being able to share his views so freely with me. Upon asking for elaboration, I was alarmed by his self-described uneasiness with imparting his thoughts during previous interactions with other people. Regardless of the fact that we disagreed with one another, spending the time to fully understand the roots of my friend’s arguments and how past life experiences had influenced his stances on topical societal issues was eye-opening. Our dialogue was one I was particularly grateful for: one that I feel we both learned from, even if it did not dramatically alter our current views.
Harvard’s institutional principles hinge on the idea of “semper veritas” — always seeking the truth. This motto of consolidating all means of knowledge in discovering life truths is embedded throughout Harvard history. The responsibility to carry out this belief lies on the shoulders of every Harvard student. And it starts by genuinely listening and considering the thoughts of the people around us.
The mission toward veritas manifests itself in a variety of Harvard contexts. The spread of perspectives unravels passionately over dining hall conversations where students congregate to share lived experiences with one another. Professors and students engage in valuable academic discourse in lecture halls, filling in gaps of knowledge and creating pores of new questions that have yet to carry a definitive answer. Guest speakers from across the globe descend the steps of Memorial Hall to provide an awareness of the world that the Cambridge bubble simply cannot comprehensively convey.
These moments are applaudable, but more can still be done to open our conversations to new ideas. Harvard is often thought of as a bastion of elite liberalism. Reckoning with just one side of a belief leaves behind a gaping understanding of the other end of the spectrum. Confronting other perspectives enables us to fully justify our own by laying down definitive reasoning that reconciles the inaccuracies we perceive in opposing ideals.
If our country aspires for unity: that…
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