When I came to Claremont, I hoped to find a loving community and an extended family. Unfortunately, what I found instead is an environment in which professing a commitment to social activism is often more important to my fellow students than actually connecting with the people around them. Many of my progressive classmates concern themselves with berating their peers for their ostensible insensitivity or privilege, rather than with expressing sensitivity to each other.
I have a message for these students: Expecting others to accept your conception of morality—one in which tolerance and acceptance are supposedly paramount—while treating dissenters with disdain is hypocrisy at its finest. You are trying to show people how to better society, which is admirable, but you have forgotten that a better society must start with ourselves. Society is not some vague entity – it is all around us in our dorms, in our classes, and in our libraries. If we are to demand that others embrace certain ideals, we are obligated to take on these same ideals ourselves and live them out as fully as possible.
When we willfully ignore this obligation, however, our community suffers. Deep and lasting relationships are no longer possible; instead, our relationships depend upon whether or not we agree with each other ideologically. When activism becomes more important than establishing sincere, genuine connections with people from different ideological backgrounds, no reasons remain for listening to those who cannot help our political goals. We thus become indignant of even respectful dissent, blinded by a sense of moral superiority that deems any disagreement a moral violation. In this way, we dehumanize each other based on ideology and create a highly judgmental culture that absolves us from needing to treat each other with respect and or consider alternative perspectives.
This last point is what most upsets me about the Claremont community. Students encourage each other to believe that highlighting the immorality of others is of far greater importance than actually practicing the values which they claim a person must support, accept, and live by in order to be morally good. How can we improve ourselves if we see only good in ourselves and our opinions and only evil in those who deviate from our worldview? How can we become better people if we rarely place ourselves in a position to contemplate our wrongs? The fact is that no one is perfect, consistent, or correct all of the time, and rather than becoming indignant and aggressive when faced with dissent, students should do better for the community and for themselves by showing each other sincere kindness and understanding.
Activism should not strangle our relationships or limit the compassion we show to others. If it does, the activism which truly matters—the radical task of loving and accepting one another in spite of our differences—will be left behind, and we will have lost sight of what’s truly important.