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Holding My Tongue, Well...Sort of


It was more than a decade ago, but I still remember the warm Spring afternoon as clearly as I remember what I ate for breakfast this morning. In a way, it was a watershed moment for me--a moment of personal triumph -it was the first day that losing an argument didn't bother me in the least. 

Life in the Doctoral program was different than any other academic experience I've ever had. I'd been used to sitting in hard chairs, neatly arranged in straight rows with a professor standing behind a podium and lecturing to his students. In the doctoral program there were no student desks, podiums or straight rows-we, the students sat in Executive chairs around a conference table with our professors at the same table sitting in the same type of chairs. Instead of one professor, there was always two and instead of lecture, the teaching method was discussion, interaction and sometimes argument. At this level of learning, the professors don't just expect students to be able to regurgitate information, they expect students to be able to interact with it-to analyze and criticize it. Before each 2-week long, intensive seminar, we'd read a stack of books, write reaction papers to them and after the seminar, we'd write a 20-page post-seminar paper that demonstrated mastery of the material we'd read and discussed.

On this particular day, I'd mentioned something about the depravity of man, when my professor interrupted me, saying that he didn't believe that man was depraved-his exact words, "As far as I'm concerned, you can keep your depravity of man." In the past, I would have been troubled by his disagreement and would have defended my theological position. Instead, I listened to what he said to defend his position and responded by saying, "You know, it doesn't bother me in the least that you disagree with me. I know what I believe, and obviously, you know what you believe. As far as I'm concerned, you have a right to be wrong."

Alright, I know-all I said was it was a moment of personal triumph, I didn't say I wasn't a jerk. The real lesson I've learned as I reflect back on that experience is that my beliefs are neither diminished nor reinforced by other people's agreement with them-they stand alone.

The other lesson that I'm still learning is the importance of being polite to people I disagree with-especially those who have the power to determine my final grade.

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