It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword. That rhetoric and questions will win the day over violence and discord. In light of recent events here on campus and abroad, this old idea could not be more relevant. Every day, every hour perhaps, we are challenged to critically think about ideas and concepts that shake us to our very core. We find ourselves in places or with people that may not share our line of thinking or sense of morality. We are engaged in a constant struggle between mutually respectful conversation and ideological warfare.
Gustavus recently played host to the 52nd annual Nobel Conference “In search of Economic Balance.” Gustavus in conjunction with the Economics and Management department brought in many diverse speakers who approached this idea at sometimes entirely different levels. We heard from devout free market economists, behavioral economists, and a theologian. With these different fields being in play, it is no wonder that indeed there was a great deal of disagreement over certain ideas and research conclusions, and yet we saw no fighting. Not one of our speakers threw a punch or verbally attacked another in a demeaning way. Instead they did, what I call, play the scholar. Instead of meeting disagreement with disrespectful statements or violence, they met disagreement with questions and ideas. They engaged their ideological dissident with thoughtful conversation not meant to change their mind, but for the sake of creative and intelligent inquiry, for the sake of greater understanding and growth for both parties.
Now this may seem like a utopic idea, unattainable for anyone with less than a PhD, but this is not the case. We all, regardless of circumstances or environment we find ourselves in, have the innate ability to respectfully engage with people of differing views. There are no special classes one needs to take, or books one needs to read. We must simply all recognize that we are all uniquely different in many wonderful ways. That through our diversity of opinion we can create real and positive change. Thus, when I hear about instances here on campus or situations abroad that neglect this principal of respectful conversation, I am quite distressed. To me, this represents a dangerous trend that would seek to limit the speech of individuals who may hold views that are contrary to a general line of thinking in a given community. This is not the type of community we want here at Gustavus. Did we not all come here to be intellectually stimulated and gain insight into ideas and thoughts that have a profound effect on the human experience? Did we not come here to engage our fellow scholars and life-long learners in fascinating conversations involving many disciplines? I know I did, and so when I see conversations or confrontations that take on the tone of closemindedness and hate I become profoundly upset.
We have an incredible opportunity here at Gustavus to interact with many different people in many different ways. I may be an Economics and History double major, but within minutes I can be speaking to a biologist. Another few minutes and I can bring an artist into the conversation. Sooner than later I could have 10 to 15 different majors each giving their unique insight into the topic at hand. That is truly incredible to think about and the community I hope we can sustain. For that is the community that grows and prospers. That is the community that fosters hard and important work. And when that work is done, greater understanding and positive change result!
So in the end, play the scholar. Be a Nobel Conference speaker. Ask questions, be confrontational, but don’t act rashly. Challenge people’s beliefs and ideas, but do so in a way that fosters greater understanding, not increased division. This election is divisive and contentious, but we must not let the political mudslinging infect our community and our learning. We must always remember that we are a community together, and together we must stay to ensure the continuation of peace, growth, and learning! To finish I leave you with a quote about discussion by Joseph Joubert. “The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress”
– Sean Hinnenkamp