Keeping our discourse respectful in polarizing times
A campus that welcomes all views must know how to handle conflict
Originally published by CM Life as an Op-Ed on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023.
If asked, many of us would describe ourselves as "conflict averse." We feel uncomfortable when confronted with challenging ideas and people, and many of us would go out of our way to avoid disagreement. Today, I'd like to challenge you to embrace the discomfort and to choose to engage in the art of respectful disagreement.
While developing CMU’s new strategic plan, we reinforced the idea that to fully unlock our potential and truly be an exceptional place to grow, we must invite diverse ideas and engage with them. One objective of our plan aims to, “establish the university as a national model of an inclusive campus that ensures unwavering exploration of all ideas, ideologies, and perspectives by promoting opportunities for creative and courageous conversations.”
We aspire to make our campus a marketplace of ideas, where students, faculty and staff have access to all perspectives on an issue, can think critically about them, and then decide for themselves where they stand. To achieve this goal, we must intentionally invite in diverse speakers and groups, and we will purposefully engage in discussions and debates that allow us to share our opinions, experiences and perspectives.
Naturally, welcoming all viewpoints means there will be disagreements — sometimes strong disagreements. There will be times you feel uncomfortable when faced with ideas you do not like or understand. These moments provide tremendous opportunities for us all to engage, learn and grow.
Disagreements can build emotional resilience, reinforce or change your perspective, and enhance the empathy you demonstrate to others. If approached with a growth mindset and commitment to self-improvement, respectful disagreements not only expand your knowledge, but also improve your ability to have constructive dialogue in the future.
So ask yourself: Are you willing to grow? Know that you have a choice: When confronted by a viewpoint you disagree with, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel in the moment, you can engage, or you can walk away. You can choose to use words that invite discussion and help you to build toward mutual understanding, or you can react in a way that prevents any chance of meeting in the middle.
Remember: YOU control your actions and reactions, and there is always room for civility.
One of my earliest and most important lessons in leadership was recognizing the value of working with a diverse team. It might be very satisfying to have people unanimously agree with my opinions, however it will not lead to the best decisions. It is vital to surround myself with individuals whose thoughtful questions will challenge my ideas, who will fill in gaps in my knowledge and experience — people who see the world differently, whose lives and perspectives are unlike my own.
I encourage you to surround yourself with people with diverse views. You could join student organizations that challenge your world view. Lectures or discussions like Soup and Substance and the Griffin Forum bring thoughtful and challenging ideas to campus. There are many opportunities at CMU to expose yourself to diverse perspectives.
CMU’s new strategic plan renews our commitment to make CMU a place that welcomes diverse ideas and opinions. We may vehemently disagree with some of those ideas and opinions, but we should listen with respect and engage appropriately. By doing so, we are creating richer, more meaningful experiences.