The Importance of Critical Conversations

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Today, we live in one of the most divided societies of all time. We’ve moved on from Team Edward and Team Jacob to something much more extreme. We have our beliefs, our opinions, and nothing anyone says is going to change that. Recently, Auburn started a critical conversation series. I find that to be pretty awesome. Sometimes I find Auburn on the less prepared side, so this proactive move towards inclusion is real progress. I recently attended the talk with Barbara and Jenna Bush on October 5 and was blown away.

Throughout the talk they discussed their childhood, and how they thought that everyone’s grandfather and father was the president. Barbara even recalled asking one of her friends, “When is your grandpa’s inauguration?” My grandpa was pretty great but we went to a baseball game for a nice outing, not the White House Easter Egg hunt. Despite living very un-relatable lives, they managed to come across as extremely down to earth and intelligent. They talked about how they found their way and eventually developed their passions. Jenna now stars on The Today Show and Barbara is in charge of her own non-profit organization, Global Health Corps.

One of the best questions that was asked during the seminar was this: When did you have to express a controversial opinion and how did that feel? Barbara spoke about how she participated in a video to push for gay marriage in New York City. Clearly, her family has more conservative politics and gay marriage isn’t something that is exactly considered traditional.

I can relate to Barbara’s hesitation. Living in Alabama as someone who would consider myself to be liberal has been eye opening and challenging at times. Lots of topics come up that, approached with the wrong tone, can be very uncomfortable and sometimes hostile; gay rights, abortion, gun laws just to name a few. After all, Alabama is part of the Bible Belt and shooting a gun with your father is basically a rite of passage. Topics like these can spark conversation, but if not handled the right way, it can be very divisive. When I first got to Alabama, I found myself holding my tongue when controversial topics came up, trying to avoid conflict and disagreement at all costs. But, I quickly understood that this was the root of the problem.

We develop our own opinions and close ourselves off to all possibilities of discourse. Sometimes, it’s difficult to discuss controversial topics; they’re controversial for a reason. They strike a chord in us. What I’ve come to realize is that everyone comes from different backgrounds, families and political beliefs. Who’s to say that if I was raised here I wouldn’t have conservative beliefs? I truly don’t know. But we can’t stop talking, we can’t stop communicating about these issues just because it might be tough. I have made tons of friends while in Alabama, some I would even consider family. We may not agree on everything, I might think they are wrong about some things, and I’m sure they think I’m wrong too. Regardless, we talk. They explain to me their perspective and I explain mine. That’s the only possible way we can move towards any sort of togetherness as a country, to keep talking and listening with respect and love. At the end of the day we have more in common than we do have differences. I encourage everyone to find someone with opposing view points, and have a discussion. Remember that most of us watch way too much TV, snooze our alarms, and sneak extra cookies on a bad day. We are all humans and we have much to overcome, but the only way it will ever be possible is together.

Check out Auburn's Critical Conversations website for the list of the last two sessions and for the times and locations.