Use your voice, but also listen

By

I’ve never been too confident about the sound of my own voice. I hate to hear myself on a message machine. I play guitar and even when I’m alone, on the rare occasion that I choose to sing, I have to fight to make myself audible. Although I have mixed feelings about the power of my own speech, I have always admired strength and wisdom in the well-chosen words of others. I know that experiencing voices of the world, of all opinion and background, will only serve to enrich and empower my own.

The metaphorical voice I wish to address here is that of Macalester radicalism, liberalism and political social activism. My worry is that sometimes the Macalester “radicalism, liberalism, political social activism” I see loses sight of humanity. Mahatma Ghandi wrote: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” In my third year here, I am finally coming around to the revelation of what such a grand statement could begin to mean.

I love and commend the newly invigorated interest, energy and organization of those who dare to act upon what they believe. I encourage students to bang pots and pans (Sweatshop Protest), wear grotesque costumes (Zombie Army), and take back the streets with their bicycles (Critical Mass). I also hope that these people are aware of their powerful effects.

My comments happen to coincide with the season when the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur are observed, a time of personal scrutiny when one takes a flashlight to shine within, to view what kind of life one has led.

My New Year’s resolution is to be more open-minded, in the greatest sense of the phrase. I won’t take the easy way out. I refuse to dissent by way of humiliation and annoyance. I will not perpetuate the oppression. It’s too easy to be critical. It’s too easy to make fun of the Other.' It's too easy to equate Bush, Republicanism and militarism toevil’ and nothing more.

I am working on following these “New Year’s” guidelines myself: Before you sign a petition, read the fine print. Before you hold a sign or wear a costume, be ready for questions that will come. If you are willing to profess an idea or a belief you must be as willing to have a dialogue with your dissent as you are to meet minds with your followers. Know what you are fighting and be willing to get to know and respect who you are fighting against. It’s too easy to dehumanize those who think differently than we do.

Last year I stopped and talked to the military recruiter everyone else only wanted to scare away. I was thrown a lot of odd looks by friends and fellow Campus Center passers-by. I wasn’t personally interested in going to medical school through army service. At the same time I wasn’t about to stand there and watch others disrespect this man’s day job simply because they disagreed with the institution of which he was a part. I like to take the outlook that my thoughts and stances are much more challenged by those I disagree with than those who think exactly the same as I do.

At Macalester especially, we must understand that people are cultural constructions, shaped by their surroundings. While we are exercising our right to activism we also must be careful with and cognizant of the fact that the military recruiter, the buyer of sweat shop goods, the solo dude driving his car to work, are all people as well.

As your voice grows in volume and strength, be mindful that it does not squelch those budding around you. Don’t close your ears just because you feel your own voice getting stronger.

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