If there is one buzzword of the last two years, it has been “Change.” From presidential campaigns to university presidential transitions, global warming to healthcare, we have become ever more aware of the changes in the world around us. For those of us living on campus, we have seen everything from a huge increase in the size of the student body to a never-ending labyrinth of construction sites constantly changing on campus.
With change, however, inevitably comes disagreement. From the national stage with the ongoing healthcare debate, to Tech’s considerations of how to change for the future, there is always a debate. Now, there is nothing wrong with disagreement; in fact, I enjoy a good healthy debate.
The problem is that all too often battle lines are drawn between those who favor “change” and those who oppose it. These conflicts are in need of serious rethinking, if we are to engage in meaningful dialogue. First and foremost, we need to reconsider how we think about change in an abstract sense.
Some say that change is intrinsically good, and that it is a symbol of progress. Others that there is real value in holding to the traditions that built our current society.
On the one hand with change, you have the near limitless potential of the unknown. After all, we’re all human, and there is almost certainly a better way to do everything from academics, healthcare, etc. On the other hand, it does represent a small leap into the unknown, and after all, even “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go askew”
Sticking with the norm also has its pitfalls. It is comfortable and convenient, but it always begs the question, what are we missing out on? Alternatively, the virtue in tradition is that it is both tried and tested. We know exactly how the tradition works, what the advantages are and what the problems are.
A third option is change to the extreme.
Here, I’m talking about revolution. At times, a revolution is exactly what is needed. Civil rights and slavery are perfect examples. In both cases, both heaven and earth should have been moved to right the wrong. Far more often, however, revolution represents a leap into the unknown in a way rarely responsible. Enthusiastic reform movements are exciting, motivating, and contagious, but there seems to be a distinct lack of discussion of the implications of a revolution.
Clearly there are both positive and negative sides to every choice. One is not intrinsically more “right” than another.
In all three options as applied to any issue, the key to deciding should always lie in discussion. The trick to resolving any issue is to be both persuasive and persuadable.
The best ideas come out of community, and community entails discussion. I cannot tell you how happy it would make me to see people out by the campanile discussing economic theory, or how sustainability should actually work.
One of the biggest barriers between this idea and reality is the lack of civility we often show to those with differing opinions, particularly along the change/no change divide.
I could write a whole newspaper on the issue of “civility.” Recent days have shown us how few good examples of civility there are in the world, from Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst during President Obama’s speech, to Serena Williams’ four-letter rant at the U.S. Open, to Kanye West’s interruption of an awards ceremony.
These examples are only the most recent in a long string of a national culture that seems to be losing its sense of civility. Only once we learn to treat one another civilly, destroy the idea of “change” as either good or bad, and actively engage with one another will we be able to rise above the challenges .
My dream is that we could see more discussions at Tech that embrace that alternative.
One where we first acknowledge that we may be mistaken in our positions, and are therefore persuadable.
One where we have thought about our position, and can muster coherent arguments for our opinion.
One where we seek discussions with others to put our ideas to the test, so that we can together seek to build a future rooted in the traditions of the past, but open to the ideas of the future.