What’s the point?

| Staff Columnist
I was browsing through Student Life on Wednesday, looking for inspiration for this week’s column, and I discovered that the most commented-upon article of the week was Michael Morgan’s op-ed submission criticizing Chancellor Wrighton’s letter in response to the current financial difficulties [Nov. 21]. I’ll admit that I didn’t read the whole article as closely as I could have, but I did read all of the comments in response to it, comments which span the past two weeks. They range from dispassionate corrections of mathematical errors, to frustrated critiques of the article’s alleged racist and elitist undertones to Mr. Morgan’s own attack-the-attackers style defense. As I was sitting there reading, all I could think was, “What’s the point?”

Personally I found the chancellor’s words appropriate: this is a time of great difficulty across the board, and it’s also a time to stand together as a community. I was heartened to see that the only request for financial support in the letter was a request to fund the students—“For those who are able, please continue to support us financially, with special emphasis on support of our scholarship programs.” Further, a lot of attention was given to the need to provide for everyone appropriately, including a commitment to providing greater increases in compensation for those who receive the least compensation overall. The chancellor crafted a well-reasoned, measured, thoughtful letter that implicitly, if not explicitly, addressed the needs of the entire University community.

What I found interesting was that, in the op-ed itself and in all of the responses to the op-ed, there seemed to be much more of a sustained effort toward criticism than toward finding a constructive way forward. Reasonable people can disagree; not everyone read the chancellor’s letter the way I did. But given that, given the possibility for disagreement and the possibility for finding things to criticize in the letter, it strikes me that reasonable people are only “reasonable” insomuch as they disagree in a reasonable way.

To me, disagreement is only reasonable if it serves a purpose.

The op-ed rails against the establishment and criticizes the failure of the chancellor to do and say enough, without establishing what enough is, without creating or defending any kind of an argument. The responses to the op-ed point out Morgan’s failure to offer compelling evidence, the weaknesses in his math and the elitist/racist undertones, without offering a compelling alternative—support for Chancellor Wrighton or a concurring critique legitimated by well-developed reasons and a nod toward being constructive.

My thought is this: when we, as a community, get bogged down in pointing fingers and assigning blame and criticizing one another, we lose the ability to change. We lose the ability to change because we lose the ability to see, to see both ourselves and that which needs to change. One party attacks and another gets defensive, and instead of a useful conversation about what could be done right in the future it turns into a useless debate about who was more wrong in the past.

Now is not the time to point fingers. Now is not the time to wax righteously-indignant, to stereotype and attack the community at large and it is not the time to be baited by such attacks and drawn away from the real issues. Anyone can criticize; very few can create positive change. And without that change, without bringing forward a meaningful contribution to whatever given debate it is with which we are involved, without finding a way to both see problems and see solutions to those problems, I ask again: What’s the point?

I’m not trying to criticize, I’m not trying to cast blame; I’m trying only to offer food for thought. It strikes me that it would serve us all well, in hard times and in life in general, to pause and, before we speak, figure out why we speak. There should always be a point.

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