Increasingly, I’m speaking at colleges and universities about the hottest topic going: how to achieve diversity and inclusion. Most educators see diversity as a matrix of skin colors, genders, religious affiliations and sexual orientations. But diversity is also about airing different perspectives. At institutions of higher education, intellectual diversity should be a no-brainer.
It’s not, and that’s because of the dirty little secret about intellectual diversity: different viewpoints will naturally offend different people. So offense isn’t a price to be avoided at any cost. Offense is the cost of honest diversity.
For me, this issue isn’t abstract or theoretical. Every day, people post nasty comments about something that my team and I work our tails off to create, namely Moral Courage TV. The insults are tailor-made to offend.
What, then, to do? I’ve been told to ignore “the trolls.” They want nothing more than for you to “take the bait.”
That may be true about some critics, but if we treat everyone with a hostile opinion as a troll, how do we grow from legitimate critique? How can we hope to change minds? Above all, how can we expect to be heard if we’re not willing to hear?
If my questions sound naive, be assured of one thing: I don’t aim for a world free of conflict. Instead, I teach my students to turn destructive disagreement into constructive conflict. The clash of perspectives can be useful — a source of creative tension. As Martin Luther King, Jr. told his critics, “I’m not afraid of the word tension. I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive non-violent tension that is necessary for growth.”
So, a sincere note to my detractors: Offend me. I’m ready to engage you.