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  • In 1994,

  • Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein coauthored "The Bell Curve,"

  • an extremely controversial book

  • which claims that on average,

  • some races are smarter and more likely to succeed than others.

  • Murray and Herrnstein also suggest

  • that a lack of critical intelligence explains the prominence of violent crime

  • in poor African-American communities.

  • But Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein are not the only people who think this.

  • In 2012,

  • a writer, journalist and political commentator named John Derbyshire

  • wrote an article that was supposed to be a non-black version of the talk

  • that many black parents feel they have to give their kids today:

  • advice on how to stay safe.

  • In it, he offered suggestions such as:

  • "Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks,"

  • "Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods"

  • and "Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in distress."

  • And yet, in 2016, I invited John Derbyshire

  • as well as Charles Murray

  • to speak at my school,

  • knowing full well that I would be giving them a platform and attention

  • for ideas that I despised and rejected.

  • But this is just a further evolution

  • of a journey of uncomfortable learning throughout my life.

  • When I was 10 years old, my mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia,

  • a mental illness characterized by mood swings and paranoid delusions.

  • Throughout my life, my mother's rage would turn our small house

  • into a minefield.

  • Yet, though I feared her rage on a daily basis,

  • I also learned so much from her.

  • Our relationship was complicated and challenging,

  • and at the age of 14, it was decided that I needed to live apart from her.

  • But over the years,

  • I've come to appreciate some of the important lessons

  • my mother taught me about life.

  • She was the first person who spoke to me about learning from the other side.

  • And she, like me, was born and raised

  • in a family of committed liberal democrats.

  • Yet, she encouraged me to see the world and the issues our world faces

  • as complex, controversial and ever-changing.

  • One day, I came across the phrase "affirmative action"

  • in a book I was reading.

  • And when I asked her what the term meant,

  • she spent what felt like an hour

  • giving me a thorough and thoughtful explanation

  • that would make sense to a small child.

  • She even made the topic sound at least as interesting

  • as any of my professors have.

  • She explained the many reasons why people of various political views

  • challenge and support affirmative action,

  • stressing that, while she strongly supported it herself,

  • it was important for me to view the issue as a controversial one

  • with a long history,

  • a questionable future

  • and a host of complicating factors.

  • While affirmative action can increase the presence of minorities

  • at elite educational institutions,

  • she felt that it could also disadvantage hardworking people of different races

  • from more affluent backgrounds.

  • My mom wanted me to understand

  • that I should never just write off opinions

  • that I disagreed with or disliked,

  • because there was always something to learn from the perspectives of others,

  • even when doing so might be difficult.

  • But life at home with my mom

  • was not the only aspect of my journey that has been formative and uncomfortable.

  • In fourth grade, she decided that I should attend a private school

  • in order to receive the best education possible.

  • As a black student attending predominantly white private schools,

  • I've encountered attitudes and behaviors that reflected racial stereotypes.

  • Several of my friends' parents assumed within minutes of meeting me

  • that my best skill was playing basketball.

  • And it really upset me to think that my race made it harder for them

  • to see me as a student who loved reading, writing and speaking.

  • Experiences like this motivated me to work tirelessly

  • to disprove what I knew people had assumed.

  • My mother even said that, in order to put my best foot forward,

  • I had to be patient, alert and excruciatingly well-mannered.

  • To prove that I belonged, I had to show poise and confidence,

  • the ability to speak well and listen closely.

  • Only then would my peers see that I deserved to be there

  • as much as they did.

  • Despite this racial stereotyping and the discomfort I often felt,

  • the learning I gained from other aspects of being at an elite private school

  • were incredibly valuable.

  • I was encouraged by my teachers to explore my curiosity,

  • to challenge myself in new ways

  • and to deepen my understanding of subjects that fascinated me the most.

  • And going to college was the next step.

  • I was excited to take my intellectual drive and interest in the world of ideas

  • to the next level.

  • I was eager to engage in lively debate with peers and professors

  • and with outside speakers;

  • to listen, to learn and gain a deeper understanding of myself

  • and of others.

  • While I was fortunate to meet peers and professors

  • who were interested in doing the same thing,

  • my desire to engage with difficult ideas was also met with resistance.

  • To prepare myself to engage with controversy in the real world,

  • I joined a group that brought controversial speakers to campus.

  • But many people fiercely opposed this group,

  • and I received significant pushback

  • from students, faculty and my administration.

  • For many, it was difficult to see

  • how bringing controversial speakers to campus could be valuable,

  • when they caused harm.

  • And it was disappointing to me facing personal attacks,

  • having my administration cancel speakers

  • and hearing my intentions distorted by those around me.

  • My work also hurt the feelings of many,

  • and I understood that.

  • Of course, no one likes being offended,

  • and I certainly don't like hearing controversial speakers

  • argue that feminism has become a war against men

  • or that blacks have lower IQs than whites.

  • I also understand

  • that some people have experienced traumatic experiences in their lives.

  • And for some, listening to offensive views

  • can be like reliving the very traumas that they've worked so hard to overcome.

  • Many argue that by giving these people a platform,

  • you're doing more harm than good,

  • and I'm reminded of this every time I listen to these points of view

  • and feel my stomach turn.

  • Yet, tuning out opposing viewpoints doesn't make them go away,

  • because millions of people agree with them.

  • In order to understand the potential of society

  • to progress forward,

  • we need to understand the counterforces.

  • By engaging with controversial and offensive ideas,

  • I believe that we can find common ground,

  • if not with the speakers themselves,

  • then with the audiences they may attract or indoctrinate.

  • Through engaging, I believe that we may reach a better understanding,

  • a deeper understanding,

  • of our own beliefs

  • and preserve the ability to solve problems,

  • which we can't do if we don't talk to each other

  • and make an effort to be good listeners.

  • But soon after I announced

  • that John Derbyshire would be speaking on campus,

  • student backlash erupted on social media.

  • The tide of resistance, in fact, was so intense,

  • that my college president rescinded the invitation.

  • I was deeply disappointed by this because, as I saw it,

  • there would be nothing that any of my peers or I could do

  • to silence someone who agreed with him

  • in the office environment of our future employers.

  • I look out at what's happening on college campuses,

  • and I see the anger.

  • And I get it.

  • But what I wish I could tell people is that it's worth the discomfort,

  • it's worth listening,

  • and that we're stronger, not weaker, because of it.

  • When I think about my experiences with uncomfortable learning,

  • and I reflect upon them,

  • I've found that it's been very difficult to change the values

  • of the intellectual community that I've been a part of.

  • But I do feel a sense of hope

  • when I think about the individual interactions that I've been able to have

  • with students who both support the work that I'm doing

  • and who feel challenged by it and who do not support it.

  • What I've found is that,

  • while it can be difficult to change the values of a community,

  • we can gain a lot from individual interactions.

  • While I didn't get to engage with John Derbyshire

  • due to my president's disinvitation,

  • I was able to have dinner with Charles Murray before his talk.

  • I knew the conversation would be difficult.

  • And I didn't expect it to be pleasant.

  • But it was cordial, and I did gain a deeper understanding of his arguments.

  • I found that he, like me, believed in creating a more just society.

  • The thing is, his understanding of what justice entailed

  • was very different from my own.

  • The way in which he wanted to understand the issue,

  • the way in which he wanted to approach the issue of inequality

  • also differed from my own.

  • And I found that his understanding of issues like welfare

  • and affirmative action

  • was tied and deeply rooted

  • in his understanding of various libertarian and conservative beliefs,

  • what diminishes and increases their presence in our society.

  • While he expressed his viewpoints eloquently,

  • I remained thoroughly unconvinced.

  • But I did walk away with a deeper understanding.

  • It's my belief

  • that to achieve progress in the face of adversity,

  • we need a genuine commitment

  • to gaining a deeper understanding of humanity.

  • I'd like to see a world with more leaders

  • who are familiar with the depths of the views

  • of those they deeply disagree with,

  • so that they can understand the nuances of everyone they're representing.

  • I see this as an ongoing process involving constant learning,

  • and I'm confident that I'll be able to add value down the line

  • if I continue building empathy and understanding

  • through engaging with unfamiliar perspectives.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

In 1994,

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【TED】Zachary R. Wood: Why it's worth listening to people you disagree with (Why it's worth listening to people you disagree with | Zachary R. Wood)

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    Samuel posted on 2018/05/11
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