Posts Tagged ‘Confrontation’

This University, like any great university, encourages, and indeed demands, independence of mind.  We expect you to develop the ability to articulate your views clearly and cogently, to contend with and learn from competing viewpoints, and to modify your opinions in light of new knowledge and understanding.  Your Princeton education will culminate in a senior thesis that must both present original research and also contend respectfully with counter-arguments to your position.
This emphasis on independent thinking is at the heart of liberal arts education.  It is a profoundly valuable form of education, and it can be exhilarating.  It can also at times be uncomfortable or upsetting because it requires careful and respectful engagement with views very different from your own.  I have already emphasized that we value pluralism at Princeton; we value it partly because of the vigorous disagreements that it generates.  You will meet people here who think differently than you do about politics, history, justice, race, religion, and a host of other sensitive topics.  To take full advantage of a Princeton education, you must learn and benefit from these disagreements, and to do that you must cultivate and practice the art of constructive disagreement.
Doing so is by no means easy.  Some people mistakenly think the art of disagreement is mainly about winning debates or being able to say, “I was right.”  It is much harder than that.  The art of disagreement is not only about confrontation, but also about learning.  It requires that we defend our views, as we do in debate, and, at the same time, consider whether our views might be mistaken.
It requires, too, that we cultivate the human relationships and trust that allow us to bridge differences and learn from one another.  That is one reason why I disagree with people who consider inclusivity and free speech to be competing commitments.  I believe exactly the opposite, namely, that if we are to have meaningful conversations about difficult topics on university campuses and in this country, we must care passionately both about the inclusivity that enables people to trust and respect one another and about the freedom of speech that encourages the expression of competing ideas.
Building trust depends upon empathy, patience, and sometimes forbearance.  The art of disagreement requires a practiced sense of when to listen, calm the waters, remain silent, or simply walk away.  Even in a University that thrives on disagreement, you need not rise to every provocation.  As you speak with classmates and others, you may sometimes choose to focus on developing relationships, deferring vigorous debate for another day and a more promising moment.
But you also need to find times to speak up, because otherwise you will never have the uncomfortable conversations that really matter.  You will never have a chance to test and develop your own views or to inform the views of your peers.
Speaking up is not always easy.  As a student on this campus and, indeed, throughout your life — at work, in social settings, and in civic organizations — you will encounter moments when saying what you believe requires you to say something uncomfortable or unpopular.  Learning the art of disagreement can help you to choose the moments when it makes sense to speak, and to do so in ways that are effective, constructive, and respectful of the other voices around you.  But no matter how good you become at the art of disagreement, you will also need the personal courage to say what you believe — even if it is unpopular.
“Popular” and “populism” share a common Latin root: “popularis” — meaning “of the people.”  We are back, in a way, to the question with which we began, about what it means to exercise leadership in circumstances of diversity and disagreement.  Some people think leadership depends upon popularity — that it emanates from the approval and praise of a cheering crowd.  This University is dedicated to a different view.  We are committed to leadership through the rigorous and unstinting pursuit of truth.  We believe that sometimes the greatest leadership and the most important insights come not from someone popular, famous, or acclaimed, but from a lone, brave voice insisting on a fundamental principle.
   —   Christopher L. Eisgruber
Excerpt from his speech: “Pluralism and the Art of Disagreement
Given at the Opening Exercises on September 10 to the Princeton Class of 2021
Source: http://paw.princeton.edu/article/pluralism-and-art-disagreement
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