Columnists, myself certainly included, tend to do a lot of complaining. We complain about dining, about housing, about politics and about anything that we can use to fill our 850-word columns. Sure, sometimes we compliment or commend or pontificate, but in general, it’s easier to complain because there are so many things in our school and our nation that we’d like to see change. We’ve all been guilty of complaining about an issue without offering a solution, but I tend to think that’s OK as long as we’re at least starting a novel and necessary dialogue.
The other thing columnists—and students in general—tend to do a lot of is pick fights. We become personally offended and will organize protests over just about anything. We insist upon living in a constant state of rage, where anyone who is acting or thinking contrary to our beliefs is doing so maliciously, behaving contrary to natural law. Sometimes these feelings are justified, but all too often they are not. Constantly making demands of our administrators and elevating these complaints (which, let’s not forget, is what they really are) to the level of personal attacks only serves to make Duke students seem out-of-touch and attention-seeking. And all too often, the demands that students present are hypocritical and would only perpetuate a cycle of rage. I call it the “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” Effect. It’s based on the children’s book of the same name, and it hypothesizes that certain individuals tend to insist on making circular, increasingly unreasonable requests until we all end up back where we started. I’d like to give you an example of what I mean:
Last year, multiple students and professors suggested that the University should remove Chick-fil-A from campus for using profits from the privately held company to support organizations that work to prevent the legalization of gay marriage. These students concluded that, since the University publicly supports gay rights, it should not allow companies like Chick-fil-A to operate on campus and use its profits in opposition to this stance. This argument, when taken to its logical end, is clearly not a sound metric upon which to base our decisions in managing the University.
Before proceeding, though, I’d like to make one point very clear: I support gay marriage. I do not, however, support the notion that my opinion is the only acceptable one to hold, nor do I expect the entire human race to fall into line with my point of view simply because its mine. And therein lies the problem with the kind of thinking that I’ve presented above.
The fact that you support gay rights and the fact that the University—inasmuch as it has legal personhood—supports gay rights does not automatically justify you or anyone else in expelling another organization from campus simply for holding an alternate viewpoint. There is a healthy minority of Americans that also holds this viewpoint, and—contrary to popular belief—some of them even attend this University. Just as we should not persecute individuals for holding a political ideology, we should not persecute organizations for the same “crime.” And for those who believe that we can and should hold organizations to a higher standard than that to which we hold individuals: Should we also kick the Catholic Center off campus? Should we remove all religious and student organizations that hold a viewpoint contrary to yours?
To use a less emotionally charged topic, let’s take DukeOpen and the issue of responsible investment. Many students believe that the University needs to be more transparent in its finances. The University obviously disagrees. Does that entitle the University to suppress the DukeOpen movement because it is an organization that opposes an institutionally-held ideal? Of course not, because that’s called tyranny of the majority—or worse, tyranny of the minority.
Universities thrive on diversity, debate and intellectual conversations about important political and social issues. If we listen to those students and professors—those members of the Duke community who suggest we silence those who think differently—then we would cease to be a university entirely. Moreover, those same individuals who clamored for the removal of the ideologically offensive parties would now be up in arms over excessive University oversight. And so continues the “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” Effect.
If you don’t like what a corporation is doing, take your money elsewhere. If you don’t like what an organization is doing, boycott them. If you don’t like what an individual is doing, agree to disagree or engage them in a productive conversation. But don’t simply try to shut down whatever voice disagrees with yours. Don’t become enraged at the existence of dissent. Dissent is necessary to start a conversation. Rage, on the other hand, is the enemy of productive dialogue.
Here’s how I see it: “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” is a children’s book. As students at an elite university, we should all be above that level of thinking.
Scott Briggs is a Trinity senior and the editorial page editor. His biweekly column is part of the weekly Editor’s Note feature and runs on alternate Thursdays. Send Scott a message on Twitter @SBriggsChron.