This semester has done a lot to make me better relate to my fellow humans. I’ve gotten to know people who think very much like I do, which is a nice validation for my sanity. I’ve also gotten to know people who think very differently from me, and I’ve come to really appreciate the multitude of perspectives. Now I’ve been surrounded by people with different views my whole life, but only recently have I come to not be so concerned with bringing those people closer to my perspective.
But recently, and especially tonight, I’ve felt that many of my peers have been less-than-hospitable, less than open to the very diversity that lets me be open to them.
I’m speaking of my involvement in the Student Government. This is not a strictly political post, but some of the conservatives in SGA have been… irritating. Last week two of my fellow senators voted against supporting an anti-genocide group on campus, even though there was no required cost or time involvement in the bill. One senator said he voted against it because “psshh, I don’t care about Darfur.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, I do know that he has a bit of a grudge against the senator who wrote the bill for his various legislative shenanigans and over-the-top personality. He went through the rest of the meeting groaning and making a scene every time anything happened that failed to meet his approval.
The other one who voted against it did so because he’s a libertarian, and doesn’t believe that the rest of the world is any of our business. As frustrating as that position may be, it’s not necessarily an antagonistic view. Tonight, however, this same senator used a procedural, political trick to kill a bill before we could discuss it. We used to have certain rules in place that kept this from happening, but we removed those rules because they were unwieldy, and we collectively decided that we trusted each other enough to commit to honest debate, instead of dirty tricks. Now there’s talk of bringing back the more unwieldy, less charitable procedures. I feel that if we need rules to protect ourselves from dick moves, even in something as informal as a group of college peers, then we replace the opportunity for human connection with legalize and impersonal procedure.
In an effort to not just be down on conservatives, there’s another guy whose politics I largely agree with, but who has a dick side of his own. He has this habit of giving arguments against something that we’ve done after we’ve done it. I’m not sure why these objections don’t come up during debate. Maybe he wants us to feel that we’ve made a mistake for some reason, or maybe he’s just releasing steam, but it makes this normally intelligent person look like a dumbass with no sense of timing. He also continually comes up with fun ideas, does nothing to think out the idea or research the consequences, then gets upset when he gets shot down. On both of these annoying habits, I guess he just doesn’t like getting input from other people, and that really bothers me. It seems so close-minded.
The reason these minor things have got me down is two-fold: First, these events are just recent examples of long term behavior that has slowly gotten under my skin. Second, in my Peace and Conflict class, we’ve been discussing the need for forgiveness after a genocide, how to forgive is to acknowledge the past without assigning blame or identifying current people with past atrocities.
From what I can tell, the peace process never moves forward without some level of forgiveness. The only exceptions are when one side annihilates the other, leaving no one to be reconciled to (like the Native Americans), and when conflicting groups are sufficiently geographically separated and militarily repressed (the various factions of the Balkans are now organized into homogeneous regions).
The ability to forgive is the ability to assume the best in a person, to see them as human, and give them all the respect that “human-ness” entails. So it’s a bit depressing when a group of college students, coming from more-or-less similar economic and cultural backgrounds, fail to conceive of each other in such respectful terms. If we, of all people, can’t treat each other decently, how are the victim’s of genocide and international calamity going to embrace decency? It takes a lot of trust to break political cycles of violence and repression, and right now, I just don’t see enough trust in my fellow humans to make the future any better than today.
My conservative peer’s childish behavior, my libertarian peer’s use of politics as a weapon, and my liberal peer’s distaste for other’s opinions, all display a lack of respect for “the other.” This is all just as I begin to really understand this concept of respect, and really start to pursue connecting to very different people in a meaningful way.
I’ve always been told that I act more open-minded than most, and that my indifference towards cultural norms and biases are something special. I don’t see why it’s special though. Liking people, all people, shouldn’t be difficult or idealistic. It should be the expected response to otherness, the state of mind that grown-ups adopt in order to live in a world that is both functional and worthwhile.