Feeling Coddled?

In a small town, it’s tough to avoid people with whom I disagree

By Diane Smith

There’s an article making the rounds on Facebook titled “The Coddling of the American Mind.” Published in The Atlantic, it’s both timely and provocative. According to the article, a “movement is arising … to scrub (university) campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.” Some students want professors to issue “trigger warnings” for studies that might cause a strong emotional response. For example, a course that taught The Great Gatsby would require a trigger warning because its depiction of misogyny and physical abuse might trigger a recurrence of past trauma for some students.

Mount Holyoke College, a women’s university in Massachusetts last year banned the play The Vagina Monologues from its campus because “the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman.” Wow. Once banned by Catholic universities, The Vagina Monologues is now being banned by progressive universities.

And there’s more. Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown, even Washington University in St. Louis have all recently disinvited speakers over fears of offending. Tolerance, it seems, is no longer the hallmark of our progressive universities that it once was.

“One resists the invasion of armies; one does not resist the invasion of ideas,” wrote Les Miserables author Victor Hugo at the end of the 1800s. Good ideas are priceless. Yet we have precious few of them in circulation these days. Could there be a correlation between silencing those who offend us and the lack of creative solutions we seem to have for vexing problems like poverty, climate change, and education?

I think so. In a small town, it’s tough to avoid people with whom I disagree or that just irk me. We’re all bumping into one another and know each other’s business. That’s got its downsides, but overall, I think it’s a good thing. I’ve found that rudeness or extreme insensitivity tend to be the exceptions among people who are face-to-face and shaking hands.

Let’s all agree that bigotry or boorishness shouldn’t have a place among courteous people. And there are certainly conversations most of us don’t want to have at a dinner party or, as Mom used to say, in polite company. But success of any kind requires that we draw ideas and inspiration from people whose perspectives are vastly different from our own, even if they annoy the heck out of us.

We live this every day in small town America and we’re better for it. Maybe it’s just hard to resist a good idea when it’s shaking your hand.

Learn more about Diane by following her column here or visit American Rural at AmericanRural.org.

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