Universities are great places to find and foster a wide range of views and opinions. As students, we have the pleasure of navigating this landscape on our own intellectual journeys as we mould our ideas through interaction with those around us. Naturally, there will be conflict as we encounter views with which we disagree, but how we deal with this is the cornerstone of any community.
Politics is, for the most part, not an effective judge of character as many seem to believe. In 2018, seemingly everything is politicised. Film, TV, even the clothes we wear and the food we eat. If you believe politics is indicative of character, this expansion has hugely multiplied the avenues through which you can now morally condemn your peers, creating a minefield out of social interaction.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As we venture into university life with its boundless diversity of opinion we need to remember everyone here is on the same team. Politics is a means to an end. We all want to create an environment, whether it’s on campus or throughout the country, that best allows for the maximisation of our wellbeing in the long run. We all share this ambition. The different views you encounter as you enter university life, with perhaps some extreme exceptions, are not propelled by nefarious motivations.
Attributing unscrupulous motives to somebody is not simply to say that they are wrong, but that they could never be right. It carries with it a dogmatic sense of certainty and defeats the purpose of learning, which after all, is the point of attending university. So, as much as it may cause us a degree of discomfort we should hear people out. Nobody has all the answers, but maybe through the sum total of all our efforts, we can create some meaningful results.
By turning towards the order and familiarity of that with which we already agree, we deprive ourselves not only of what other people have to offer, but what we may offer other people. We forgo any opportunity to correct our errors. Debating and exchanging views is not a zero-sum game, but this kind of reserved cynicism turns it into one.
Even forgetting this there is more to appreciate about a person than their views on certain socio-political issues. Their honesty, conscientiousness, humour, ambition, courage, maturity or independence may all be worthy of admiration. Collectively too there is so much more for us to organise ourselves around. Universities combine so many of the world’s richest cultures and ideas. Edinburgh alone is home to over 280 wildly different student-run societies, and we should look beyond differences in opinion when choosing with whom we wish to spend our time.
Political differences shouldn’t be allowed to overpower our shared social interests or make us afraid of becoming good friends with those who harbour views alien to our own. To exaggerate the size of the political in our lives is irrational and prejudicial.
Overall, while it may not always come easily in the face of hard topics, we could do with being a bit more open to disagreement, and treat each other a bit more charitably when we do disagree. Human experience and friendship give us so much more to celebrate outside the political realm.
Image: Nick Youngson via The Blue Diamond Gallery