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Al-Salem '17: Passionate should not equal mean

By now we have all had at least one conversation about political correctness at Brown and whether it stifles real dialogue — it’s a topic that frustrates many but never seems to improve. But while many take issue with our inadvertently anti-liberal atmosphere, I take more issue with how Brown students think they should deliver their points.

Brown students seem to reward those who take glee at barking other people down instead of those who calmly express a perspective. On both sides of the ideological spectrum, they take their position to such an extreme that they no longer appear to listen to or recognize a contrasting opinion.

My biggest issue with these individuals is their ruthlessness when it comes to those who may not be as knowledgeable about specific topics. Instead of addressing ignorance with understanding and a desire to inform, they bash those whom they perceive as ignorant with petty, high-school bully attacks. Some students on campus who are labeled as extreme advocates for a cause are nothing short of a human version of a YouTube comment.

This is harmful behavior not only because these students lose a potential supporter and contribute to a negative image about social justice in its entirety but also because they damage dialogue on campus. Yes, we want more space to discuss freely, but it is more important that we allow those who feel less knowledgeable about certain issues to be able to voice their thoughts and opinions so they can become more informed.

Again, this act of being mean in dialogue is rampant on both sides of the Brown PC debate. Those opposed to the rigid, unspoken limitations on what can be expressed are just as brutal with their side of the argument as anyone else. It baffles me that anyone thinks it is okay or acceptable to call others out in a way that is unproductive and flat-out mean.

The worst part about this aspect of some Brown students is that we tend to glorify meanness and take it as the status quo. Being harsh and brutal will give you an entourage of people snapping and saying “Slaaay” in the background, as if tearing down another student is a quality reserved for “cool” people. We are literally enacting scenes from bad movies about high school bullies and their gang of followers, but we mask it under the guise of passionate beliefs. 

Some will read this op-ed and think I am one of those people who try to silence important causes for some evil, ulterior motive. I will be told the oppressor can’t tell the oppressed how to behave.

As a Palestinian supporter, I understand that. But no one taught me what kindness and hope in the face of oppression look like better than one of my Palestinian professors here at Brown who, time and time again, dealt with anger and hatred with a kind smile and the will to continue to inform. I understand that dealing with those who do not understand your cause is frustrating — but I also understand that there is a bigger picture at hand, one that requires restraint.

I am not one to claim I am kind or I know how to be kind. Being kind is sometimes actually very hard, especially when our natural instinct is to be anything but.

But I try to go by the basic rule of thumb that I should try to treat people the way I would like to be treated. I apply it to as many aspects of my life as I can, whether at parties, in a classroom or on public transportation.

Some people react badly to kindness, and others claim it is a sign of weakness, but it is important to strive for it regardless. In many situations, a lack of kindness pushes people away when it is most vital to have them on your side.

We are dealing with human causes, so it is imperative to treat everyone like humans. People will not respond to someone shouting at them that they are dumb and not worth speaking to — and no one ever should. More harm than good is done when we do not take the time to express our perspectives and beliefs in the manner we would want someone to present them to us. If we want a more understanding, united world, then we need to strive for that with every conversation we have.    

Sara Al-Salem ’17 can be reached at

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