Commentary | Listening with fresh ears

Moving beyond kneejerk reactions in campus politics

Like it or not, you belong to a student community. As McGill students, we all do. Unfortunately, our differences sometimes make it nearly impossible for all of us to even sit in the same room (say, an over-crowded Shatner cafeteria). It’s tough getting along; many of us are idealistic people grappling with a world outside these gates that often refuses to work the way we think it should. We experiment with the notion that some way, somehow, we can make a real difference in this world with our ideas. We want to speak confidently with one voice as a student body, transforming the passion that informs our ideals and our work, the drive that fuels those endless hours in the library, into real results. Imagine how much we could accomplish to the world’s benefit if we could come together and rally around the causes that we each care about. The problem is, we don’t seem to agree about all that much.

The last few weeks have been marred by tense and divisive campus politics. Many individuals and groups have felt marginalized, threatened, or simply ignored. It doesn’t seem to click in people’s minds that others disagree with their viewpoints for reasons that may be valid, and that no amount of name-calling and finger-pointing can change that. The leaders of various organizations and the authors of several motions put forward at last week’s General Assembly (GA) treated students as pawns to be swayed in one direction or the other. No meaningful information was proffered; we were bombarded with slogans and posters and flyers. Advocates of the motion regarding Discriminatory Groups maintained that a vote against the motion was unequivocally a vote against women’s rights. Detractors of the motion insisted with equal vehemence that a vote for the motion was a stand against freedom of speech. Note the absence of effort to find any sort of middle ground. Sorely lacking was the acknowledgement that the tension inherent in this issue indicates that both of these values are quite important. None of that – you’re either pro or anti.

So where do we go from here? Campus is effectively polarized; we have all retreated to our little groups; no meaningful headway has been made on the issues that affect us. I suggest an approach that many express intangible support for, but few care to make a reality. I’m talking about dialogue. Not the vague, politicized notion of dialogue exploited by Sana Saeed in last week’s Daily (“Operation Cast Lead comes to campus,” Commentary, February 11), but something substantial. Real dialogue means a serious evaluation of one’s own beliefs and the beliefs of others. It means setting aside your antipathy for viewpoints that contradict your own and genuinely listening to those with whom you do not see eye to eye. I wonder how Saeed intends to build dialogue and feels confident in asserting that those who disagree with her are stifling it when she adamantly denies the right of Zionists to even have an opinion. Once you realize that the “enemy” (insert person or movement of personal relevance here) has a face, is a real person, and has genuine reason to believe what they believe, perhaps that elusive middle ground can be found.

Let’s get the discussion out in the open. Rather than waiting for institutions and student groups to do it for us, let’s each work to build the cohesive campus community to which we have the right. Instead of silently simmering when someone disagrees with you, engage with them. If someone writes an editorial that doesn’t sit well with you, contact them and respectfully voice your opinion over a coffee. When you grant other people the right to an opinion, you open up whole new worlds of possibility. It’s that simple. So what are you going to do? Are you listening, or is your mind already made up?

Adam Winer is a U0 Arts student. Write him at AdamBWiner@gmail.com.


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