I’ve never accused AU students of being open-minded, but the negative backlash one of my fellow columnists received this past week for his heartfelt views still shocked me. One online commenter even claimed the columnist simply wrote the piece to get girls (a strategy that has worked terribly for me), and many more wrote things not fit to print.
Disillusioned with the fabled etiquette of the Internet, when my friend Cheryl Chan asked what this week’s column would entail, I responded, something noncontroversial, like conserving pandas.
When she responded in all seriousness (like my columns) that pandas are the most controversial bear out there right now, I decided I hated the constant need of AU kids to argue about anything.
Chan’s dissonance reminded me of the time I ate at a restaurant once with a bunch of my SIS friends, all decent individuals. As we talked about our future plans, the conversation turned to the Peace Corps. While I held my opinion in check (it’s a fine way for those who studied abroad in Europe to see the world), the others were essentially divided on whether it’s helping people or it’s not helping people.
Both sides made intelligent points, but all of a sudden my one friend just got up, said she didn’t want to take part in any more of this ignorant conversation, and walked away. At that moment, I saw my entire combative AU academic career unfold in front of me: my year as an SIS student spent arguing over international aid, my two weeks as a lit minor arguing over Achebe’s decision to write in English and all my time spent in SOC arguing over the merits of the serial comma. Contention has filled my classroom experience; do I really need more of it?
But while this flashback within a flashback played out in my head, Chan prattled on. “Yeah, pandas drain conservation funds that could save many more species and habitats, when evolution dictates they should go extinct.” Did Chan just make a convincing argument to pull the plug on pandas?
“But there’s the other side too, by saving pandas, we’re saving that whole ecosystem. And I learned all this while studying abroad in London, you hater,” she continued. This debate fascinated me — that there was even a debate fascinated me — and I spent a considerable amount of time fact-checking her claims (admittedly mostly on YouTube, watching the little fur balls sneeze). Chan’s initial disagreement and subsequent reasoning not only helped me learn about a topic I didn’t know existed, but think from a different point of view. And so it came to be that a little Chinese export taught me the value of debate. Chan helped too, of course.
Debate is healthy. As Ibrahim Babangida said, “Debate and divergence of views can only enrich our history and culture.” Had Babangida, military dictator of Nigeria from 1985-1993, followed his own advice, he might not have been thrown out in another military coup. I could regale you with stories from my aforementioned SIS stint of the importance of dissent and discussion to the political process, but I’m not trying to get you to argue more, just antagonize less.
When I proclaimed my hatred of AU’s love affair with argument mere paragraphs ago, I confused debate with derision and dismissal. However, based on my anecdotal observations, I’m not alone in that mistake.
It’s important to debate the effectiveness of the Peace Corps, the raison d’etre of pandas and the opinions of columnists. However, as I tried to convey in my anecdotes (and regular readers will point to other examples), irrelevant ire is a fallacy likely to convince few people. So the next time someone dares to have a viewpoint different than your own, tell them they’re wrong the right way.
Adam Gallagher is a Senior in the School of Communication.