The following commentary recently appeared in the Daily Item. Thanks to them for the invitation.
Dispel Hate: Communicate
In a speech given at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa in 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.
Despite all of our progress, these divisions are growing again. A Pew Research Center report showed that in 1994, Democrats and Republicans / Conservatives and Liberals had much more in common ideologically than they differed. By 2014, they were divided much more than united, and in the subsequent six years, the schism has continued to grow.
The rise of the Information Age has deteriorated communication. A tidal wave of media is feeding the divide. Because so much of our information is no longer curated, there really is a preponderance of “fake news.” This has delegitimized responsible reporting in the eyes of millions who don’t know how to tell the difference, threatening all of us.
A free and independent press is a necessary safeguard for democracy, which is why it is protected in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights. In a world where we don’t trust objective news sources, it is no wonder we don’t trust each other.
Throughout our nation’s history, we have made progress through an exchange of ideas, but now, we won’t take the time to listen to each other much less develop empathy for each other’s views. The best and some of the worst of our history has been born from concession, but progress has always been the product of compromise.
Cancel culture is a treacherous path — “I don’t like what you say, so I won’t listen.” This is a position spreading on both ends of the ideological spectrum, and it is threatening our communities, our nation, and the world.
This is why we need to teach our students how to have humble and difficult conversations. It is why we need to foster an appreciation of difference and a respect for divergent views.
Good people often form different opinions for thoughtful and legitimate reasons. When we engage in respectful dialog, we must be open to hearing contrary views, and we need to strive to appreciate the shaping forces of those views. Most importantly, in open discourse, we must also remind ourselves that we may be wrong.
Through the GO Program at Susquehanna, all students engage meaningfully in a culture different from their own. The maturity and humility those experiences develop are invaluable. We have also begun an NEH-funded program to foster difficult conversations on campus and in the community.
This is the heart of a liberal arts education, and we have never needed it more. This is how we develop a generation of servant leaders committed to dispelling hatred through rich, empathetic communication.
In the New Year, I hope these conversations and an openness to difference becomes the norm in our community and throughout the region. We all deserve that mutual respect, and we will all be better for it.