The Argument for Argument

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the painter Robert Motherwell, who once wrote in a letter to a friend, “I would fight more if I had more time.” (Motherwell was rather known for his wit and also once said, “The main thing is not to be dead.” That’s good advice any time, readers.)

The “I would fight more…” quote is one I love on several levels; the first being superficial because I love a good argument. (In my family, argument is something of a sport.) But on a deeper level, I love the idea that Motherwell looked beyond his own existence and daily routine and realized that there were things bigger than himself that he believed in and would stand up for – if only there were more hours in the day to fit everything in. (Who hasn’t had that thought before?) He didn’t want to shy away from points of view that differed from his own, didn’t want to let actions that opposed him go unquestioned. Instead, he craved a good argument, a good fight.

…which brings me to the modern concept of fights and arguments and our college-going student population.

If you’ve spent any time reading articles or watching news stories in the last few years, you’ve undoubtedly heard current high school and college student populations referred to as “delicate snowflakes” or learned about safe spaces and trigger warnings – and very often older generations decry the seemingly excessive protective measures schools, parents, and others take to protect the younger generations from disturbing information or opposing points of view. And while I don’t hold too hard and fast to the particular viewpoint of either side, I do believe this from the very bottom of my argument-loving heart:

College is a time to immerse yourself in opposing viewpoints and decide what you want to fight for in adulthood.

Please know, readers, that I’m not encouraging confrontation or argument just for the sake of argument here. Sure, many of us like to be contrary sometimes (guilty!), but the purpose of the immersion and argument I refer to here is self-examination. If you don’t encounter views that run completely the opposite of what you’ve always been taught or think you believe – and if you don’t exchange diverging views with someone else (which is, by the way, the dictionary definition of an argument) – how else are you to know where your own personal convictions really lie? How are you supposed to determine the type of person you really are (and want to be)?

Throughout your growing up years and in four years of high school, the ideas you’re exposed to tend to come from the family in which you’re raised, as well as the school system in which you’re educated. And, while you might step outside this comfort zone on assorted occasions, for a lot of students, the formative years are fairly homogeneous and don’t include a lot of direct contact with different cultures, beliefs, and/or ideas. So going away to college (even if you attend a local university less than an hour from home) is often the first time you find yourself immersed in a swath of differences – and therefore also the first time you probably feel really uncomfortable about it.

Of course, if you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you’ve probably already read the pieces I’ve done about this sort of adjustment to college life. In fact, most recently, I used my personal experience taking a reining lesson to talk about using a step out of one’s comfort zone as an opportunity to learn useful information to take back into the comfort zone and improve it. But it’s really easy for horse people to say, “Sure, I’ll try a discipline outside of my own once or twice. Riding’s fun and I love it – what’s to hate about a different type of horse sport?” and far (far!) more difficult to say, “I’m happy to consider the tenets of a religion other than my own” or “You know what? That opposing political viewpoint actually makes sense when you break it down.”

The bottom line, readers, is that we live in an extremely polarized world right now. There are a plethora of diametrically-opposed views out there without a lot of hazy gray ones in the middle. But unless you explore what the opposition is saying and where they’re coming from and take the time to ponder what that means in conjunction with your own belief system, you won’t have a very solid for that belief system to build from as you move forward into your career and adult life.

That’s what college is for.

So go forth and argue, students. Make the time for it as Robert Motherwell wished he could have.

And also, don’t be dead.

(Need help starting on the college search? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book for guidance.)

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