Editorial: The art of arguing well

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My family used to eat out a lot.

Or at least, part of me remembers that. I know that at some point, a long time ago in a state far, far away, we were living in a time of plenty. But I remember the day when my dad told us that we wouldn’t be able to eat out as much anymore because we couldn’t afford it. To sixth-grade me, that didn’t really matter very much. To senior college student me, it still doesn’t matter very much. What did matter was what came afterwards.

No one talked about money directly, but the implication was clear: it was tight. The big people on TV said the economy had gone bad. No one could get a job. The words “budget,” “funding,” “debt,” “cuts,” “loss,” “deficit” and “crisis” became annoying hitchhikers on our everyday conversation until we grew so numb to their meaning that we accepted them as the new reality of our lives.

Many, if not most, students at Calvin grew up in “economic recession America.” We were raised being told that there wasn’t enough of anything to go around, because some past generation had messed things up for us. We went through high school, and there wasn’t enough money for our sports clubs, science projects or school plays, and it felt like there wasn’t a single thing we could do about it.

And then we came to Calvin.

We are a unique group of students. We have spent most of our lives in a time where there were less resources than there needed to be, and this has left a lot of us jaded. And then after years of losses in almost every department due to a debt we had nothing to do with but inherited anyway, we are now faced with the prospect of losing programs a lot of us are deeply invested in. And after living in a shrinking world for the better part of our lives, this week’s events could understandably feel like the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and these cuts might feel more like slashes than snips.

I’m very proud that I am part of a student body that cares. We all know our generation gets labeled as apathetic far too often, so seeing people speak up about the things they love and truly care about is renewing my faith in all of us. There are people who are now almost literally throwing money at the situation in a fierce determination to show that they can help. Many have spoken out in grief and in disagreement, and I have had the privilege of seeing people write, organize and act in unison to defend what they think is right.

But if there is anything Calvin has taught me, it has been the art—and the importance—of arguing well. As truth-seekers we should aim to pursue, study and value truth over all. So it is only natural that I should lament when I see my fellow students being hateful, calling people names, perpetuating misinformation, attributing false blame and stretching the truth to make it sound more drastic than it is. These things do not seek truth; they seek vengeance. Instead of fighting for real and honest understanding, many have chosen the easier route of uniting against a common enemy.

To use a quote that has already been used this week, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” We have some serious trials to face, and we’re going to need to work as a community to figure this out, but our community cannot rebuild until we can have constructive conversations about our problems. That means listening, arguing well, telling the truth and expressing our emotions in a way that doesn’t involve scapegoats.

Grief, frustration and anger are appropriate and warranted in times of loss. There is value and healing in being sad together, and there is growth to be found in questioning our authorities. My argument here is not for silence, complacence or giving up without a fight. My call is simply for compassion. No story is simple; giving the benefit of the doubt to those who stand to deserve it can go a long way.