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A Princeton student reckons with the absence of intellectual exchange on campus.

… [O]ur biggest barrier to having these conversations is an unnecessarily compelling desire to be politically correct. We place a great deal of emphasis on being open to other cultural experiences, religious practices, ideals, opinions and principles. This is, of course, a good thing — but in moderation.

Let me explain what I mean by an intellectual conversation. It is not simply the transfer of interesting or unusual pieces of information between two or more people. It is the exchanging of ideas; then, the exchanging of opinions on those ideas; then, suggestions for how those ideas could be edited and improved upon; and finally, either a resultant conclusion, or a respectful decision to disagree that comes after having considered the other’s side thoroughly.

I recently participated in an event called “Speed Faithing” organized by the Religious Life Council, designed to provide a five-minute introduction to different faiths. Zoroastrian funeral rites are one of the more contentious aspects of my faith. Our bodies are disposed of in what we call “Towers of Silence” to either be eaten by carrion or to decay naturally. A friend later approached me and asked, quite succinctly, “I mean, aren’t you scared? Don’t you find it a little — weird?” It doesn’t matter that this could have been interpreted as offensive. If he hadn’t asked, I would not have been able to explain that it comes from a desire to perform “a last act of charity” and to avoid polluting the elements. He would have continued to regard me as mildly eccentric at best (and, dare I say it, barbaric at worst). There would have been no intellectual exchange.

If we are too politically correct in our interactions with each other, we will not push each other hard enough, and we will not ask the right questions, for fear of offending. Listening to a Muslim friend tell you that she wears a burqa at home is not an intellectual conversation, even if the narration itself is interesting. Asking her what she thinks of France’s ban on the garment; asking her whether she wears it because of a personal preference or because of pressure from her family; asking her what her take is on the sexist connotation that some attach to the wearing of it — these would be…

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One Response to “Intellectuality”

  1. DM Says:

    Isn’t there a saying that one avoids discussing religion or politics in polite company?

    see http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:Caran-d-ache-dreyfus-supper.jpg

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