Standing by Our Principles

This past week a member of the National Basketball Association (NBA), Daryl Morey, tweeted out a graphic stating, “Fight For Freedom Stand with Hong Kong.”

This past week a member of the National Basketball Association (NBA), Daryl Morey, tweeted out a graphic stating, “Fight For Freedom Stand with Hong Kong.” A post of only seven words, the tweet received massive backlash and tore a chasm in the NBA’s relationship with China. After its posting, the Chinese Consulate expressed its “strong dissatisfaction” and multiple big-name Chinese companies severed ties with the Houston Rockets and the NBA as a whole which ended lucrative endorsements and financial deals. In the face of this backlash, some members of the NBA have attempted to salvage billions of dollars in potential revenue by criticizing Morey’s expression of opinion. The NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has stood by Morey and his principles; “the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what...employees … say on these issues … We will protect our employees’ freedom of speech.”

The NBA’s controversy highlights an issue relevant to all of us in an age of information and hyper-partisanship: Maintain a controversial stance on principle or give in to the popular views of your peers. Here at Lawrenceville, while we may often envision a community of individuals in tacit agreement, it’s important that we maintain a willingness to stand by our views, however controversial, as a prerequisite for diverse discussion.

A key downside of choosing the perspective of least resistance is the illusion of learning, hurting our understanding of our own assumptions. Arguing a point that you do not truly support (and only chose because of appealing factors such as ease of argument) may produce short-term benefits that draw students’ attention. But this creates an illusion of learning because in casting aside their honest thinking, students prevent their thought processes from undergoing rigorous questioning, a critical element of our personal development. While we may choose a more acceptable opinion at the Harkness table, in our essays, or simply in conversation, the value in arguing for a point that you do not stand for vanishes the moment the parameters of classroom assignments are removed.

Beyond the classroom, our opinions and arguments are not geared for the sake of earning acceptance but rather a judgement upon which we act. Thus, we should use essays and discussions as opportunities to develop independent thinking rather than favor short-term convenience.

In standing by our principles, whether inside or outside an academic environment, we place our assumptions through a necessary level of questioning. If many students stand up for their perspectives, the ensuing debates and conversations can prove to be incredibly valuable. By listening to different opinions, we are forced to re-evaluate aspects of our own argument, such as the validity of assumptions and evidence involved. Even if we do not ultimately change our perspective on the issue, we develop the habit of having a healthy level of skepticism while considering a counter-argument, both of which develop a deeper understanding of the topic itself. Failing to stand up for our beliefs, we are not fully able to re-assess our opinions while listening to other perspectives, ultimately leading to weaker comprehension.

Lawrenceville boasts the benefits of a diverse community. While the wide-ranging racial makeup stands out, a more important form of diversity is contrast in thought, emphasizing a variety of strong ideas formed independently. Living at Lawrenceville entails opening our minds to different perspectives around us, but as we strive to learn and listen, the dangers of falling into a uniform mold increases. The end goal of having people with diverging backgrounds come together at Lawrenceville to promote greater perspectives, and it can be easy to go along with the beliefs of those around us, slowly narrowing the overall perspective of the student body. It isn’t that we should deny any ideas that stand against our own, but holding strong to what we believe in furthers the value of our pool of perspectives. While it is beneficial to learn from our peers, it is vital that we grow into an extension of our personal ideals, rather than a collection of public opinions. Despite the constant calling for people to listen and learn, our viewpoints lose significance if we conform to what our peers believe. Standing by our principles does not suggest that we reject all contradicting ideas, but a certain degree of persistence helps create an environment where the community as a whole can benefit from strong and unique perspectives. As Lawrentians, we advertise diversity and Harkness learning, but being enveloped in this rich community should not come at the expense of our voice, and rather than passively agreeing, we should maintain our personal principles.

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