Dialogue is the basis for an intellectual community

The meaning of Spartan life

Jacob Martin

A letter to the editor that ran in the Sept. 13 issue of this paper continues to baffle me. A disgruntled undergraduate student, apparently writing on behalf of “many other people” who were “extremely upset” with an editorial that appeared the previous week, asked The Observer “to apologize for [the] poorly-edited article.”

I respond to that student’s request with a simple yet deliberate “why?”

I do not wish to explore why that student will never get his apology because such an exercise is ridiculous for what should be obvious reasons. However, I do wish to explore the bigger question that flows from such a request that may shed light on why it is an unsettling thing to ask for, namely: What is dialogue?
What does it mean to engage in a dialogue? Clearly it is a form of communication, but in the context I’m talking about—an academic and intellectual context—it is much more than an exchange of words between people. It is an open exchange of ideas, concepts, thoughts, beliefs, values and opinions. It is the ability to learn from our differences and grow as individuals.
Our campus is riddled with the antithesis of dialogue. The letter to the editor I reference to begins this piece is a perfect example. I do not believe an opinion that attempts to silence another opinion is productive dialogue.

This attitude is all over our campus, and I want to know why. Why are we repulsed by those who disagree with us? Why do we condemn them? Why do we think we are always right? Why do we continue to stunt our growth because of foolish pretentions?

I earnestly try to listen to and entertain all viewpoints that come my way. Of course I often fail; I am human. But the effort is just not present among too many CWRU students.

Whenever I feel overly confident I humble myself in different ways. One way is I think to myself, if you left school right now, you’d have no degree, you’d have no credentials and you would not qualify for a decent job according to societal standards. So do the same. Humble yourself by putting your entire being into perspective.

The egotism needs to go—there’s no room for it at CWRU. Engineers are not better than humanities majors, Euclid Avenue does not divide the university in two and you are not always right. We are a community of colleagues pursuing the common goal of learning and gaining knowledge. It’s time we start acting like it.

We can always learn through collaboration. The way a marketing, biomedical engineering, history or physics major will approach a given problem is always going to be different, but that doesn’t mean one is correct and the other isn’t. Nor does that mean the problem can’t be solved with a hybrid solution of these differing disciplines.

CWRU is a research institution and should inherently promote dialogue. The format of all research depends on this notion of dialogue. When conducting research, as in preparation for a paper, one is effectively hearing the conversation of past scholars on a given topic. The goal is to then formulate your own topic and enter into the running dialogue of scholars.

This is how we learn and develop our abilities. This research model is how we should treat others: Listen to what they say, prepare our own comments, enter it into the greater dialogue and accept both positive feedback and constructive criticism.

But this is not what we do. We ridicule, condescend and belittle each other. We disrespect contrasting opinions and write them off as stupid and wrong. Again I ask you, why do we do this? Why are we so afraid of healthy disagreement and fruitful conflict? We should seek these kinds of exchanges out because we learn best through comparing and contrasting.

Dialogue is the most important tool to a thriving community. We must abandon all affectations and commit ourselves to the noble pursuit of knowledge. Sometimes that means humbling ourselves and listening to another’s opinion, especially one we don’t agree with. This is how we grow, not only from curious scholars to learned intellectuals, but also from immaturity to maturity.

Jacob Martin wants to know why two days of no classes is considered a “break” when professors just assign extra work?