In 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Fitzgerald was specifically referring to overcoming hardship while remaining determined despite a looming hopelessness. These were his observations nearly a century ago, yet they are perhaps more relevant than ever as our nation finds itself in the middle of what seems like a dream. For some, this dream is a very empowering one, one where the United States is about to become prosperous, powerful and great again. For others, it’s better described as a nightmare. Some just don’t care. Yet for others still, it’s a surreal fictional comedy, with each passing day getting farther and farther away from reality — a reality that last existed on the night of Monday Nov. 7, 2016.
It’s because of this chaotic mix of opinions and emotions that Fitzgerald’s quote becomes so relevant for us. Not only because many are facing significant hardship that needs to be overcome, but also because, to some degree, good points have been coming from both sides of the debate (of course we’ve had no shortage of lies and BS, too). Truth can, and will, come from people we disagree with, dislike or even hate. It’s possible to listen to what you disagree with while maintaining your beliefs. We need to accept disagreements if we’re going to be honest with ourselves and proceed in any constructive way. Violent actions we’ve seen on campus and across the United States, especially toward those who have been misrepresented and silenced, indicate that ignorance, immaturity and an oversimplified one-dimensional view of the world are still lurking within our borders.
One can’t help but think of the broader implications of this. Violent actions we’ve seen could be a very troubling sign, not just because of the violence itself, but because of the silent majority that allows it to continue. Especially in a country that claims to be a democracy, that means the country’s leadership is to some degree a reflection of its people. If a sizeable portion of the public is OK with targeted violence toward those of certain beliefs and values, or worse yet — ethnicity, color or religion, we could one day end up electing a government that behaves the same way. That is, we could end up with a government that through its violence suppresses the basic rights granted to every American in the Constitution. And if that happens, while we’re at it, we might as well rename the United States.
Sometimes you hear people get “offended” when you criticize U.S. policy or the decisions of the president. I invite you to see for yourself what becomes possible when speech is suppressed. There’s no shortage of examples: From the crash of the Challenger space shuttle to the U.S. Bay of Pigs Invasion, to the tyrannical and repressive governments that cultivated the perfect environment for the Holocaust in 20th-century Germany and the many genocides in the present-day Middle East. There’s an alarming abundance of such examples all over the world.
This brings me back to Fitzgerald’s opening quote. It’s very important to be open-minded and tolerant of people’s questions, thoughts and ideas, especially in such times. Take these as opportunities to understand why you believe what you do. Sometimes, you’ll leave with a greater conviction about your beliefs. Other times, you’ll change your mind after having realized a new perspective. It’s all about the attitude you come in with. If someone’s goal is to silence the other side, then there’s little that can be done for that person. They’re harming not only themselves, but also those around them. They’re acting contrarily to the spirit of the Constitution, and with a sufficient dose of shortsightedness, contributing to the failure of their country.
Of course, we should also exercise common sense. Some types of speech just aren’t that constructive, and end up inhibiting the exchange of ideas. Some actions and speech do nothing but repress people, especially minorities. And just like anything else, too much speech, without much action, is unlikely to do us much good.
Malcolm X famously said, “You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” He could not have been more right. If you really like your country, you’ll try to strengthen it.
Yaman Abdulhak is a LSA and College of Engineering senior.