The Danger of Comfort
By NIKHIL PANDE ‘21
Recently, many English classes reviewed the department’s statement on the usage of the ‘N-word’ in literary works. Of course, the English department has every right to prohibit saying the word in classroom discussions, but this ban highlights the fine line between outright offensive and simply uncomfortable. Egregiously offensive slurs have no place at Milton Academy, but uncomfortable ideas, as long as they pose no threat to our safety, are important to wrestle with. They serve a unique purpose: they force students to realize the presence of ideas outside of their own.
Milton Academy has always supported left-leaning ideals. Within Milton’s transparent walls reside almost unanimously accepted liberal ideas, such as the danger of climate change, pro-choice ideology, and anti-trumpism. I am not saying that these ideas are incorrect, but they are rarely challenged. We aren’t the only school to magnify liberal voices and silence conservative ones.
In March of 2017, Middlebury College, a private college in Vermont, shut down an event with a conservative speaker named Charles Murray because of student protests. According to the New York Times, “more than five dozen Middlebury College students were disciplined” by the school’s administration soon thereafter for their involvement in protests that turned violent. Although this example displays student intolerance in its most extreme fashion, it is a testament to the leftward shift of Generation Z.
Along with this leftward shift has come a devotion to ‘political correctness,’ a term more frequently heard since the rise of Donald Trump. But ‘political correctness’ is where the line between offensive and uncomfortable blurs. Both types of statements, which are completely different from one another, are lumped into the label of ‘politically incorrect.’ Instead, we should acknowledge the distinctions between offensive and uncomfortable and, thus, treat them differently.
This topic lies within the larger umbrella of free speech in our society. Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), wrote a book called “The Coddling of the American Mind,” in which he argues that free speech has been infringed upon with censorship by collegiate and high school universities. He explains how this rejection of uncomfortable or unusual beliefs has contributed to a generation that is less accepting of other ideas.
The example of the Middlebury speaker, Charles Murray, depicts a situation in which the speech of a conservative figure, speech that may define the beliefs of certain students as well, was restricted. Lukianoff’s argument raises a different question that pertains to ourselves at Milton Academy. Almost all of our campus speakers come to talk about a liberal idea, and we’ve rarely experienced a speaker talk about an ideology that has not been unanimously internalized within the student body.
I will say, however, that the liberalism of modern students has allowed them to unite in a way that no other demographic ever has. On Friday, September 20, people from all over the world participated in a climate strike that was led by students. Over 6 million people marched on the streets worldwide, bringing attention to their noble, liberal cause. This type of unity is unique and unprecedented in the modern era of politics, with the country so divided on political ideology, and presents a unique strength in the face of an aging conservative base.
Though united on the front of liberal politics, the Milton Academy student body, among others in this country, has been subject to the growing epidemic of fear of uncomfortable ideas. This fear has led to turmoil, such as the protests on the Middlebury campus. But it begs the question of how welcoming Milton would be of a speaker who challenges our beliefs. The acceptance of all ideas is a common cliché for us, but our habituation to liberalism may disallow this ideal.