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Judgment calls are something you run into with relative frequency when editing a student newspaper. By this, I mean very specifically the kind of decision where none of the available courses of action is wholly desirable, but each has its merits. These are not easy, clear-cut decisions. They are agonizing decisions, made with difficulty after lengthy consideration. And they anger people.
Principia in particular is a place where we tread lightly with issues people may take personally. And yet, every now and then, one runs into a situation where one’s best sense simply runs contrary to another’s opinion. I’ve encountered several such situations over the past couple of weeks, both within and without the running of the paper. In each case there has been a struggle between my desire to act according to my most developed sense of the principles involved, and my desire to appease the parties involved.
In one particular situation, this led to two very distinct steps. The first step was to make the judgment call, following discussion that we deemed appropriate and best for the newspaper. Then came the emotional cleanup and reconciliation part. Feelings ran high, people got upset on both sides of the issue, and in the end, lessons were learned by all involved.
Each time such a situation arises, I try to see it as an opportunity to recognize the startling and wonderful diversity of humankind. I get to learn how one more person thinks. Of course I do not seek out disagreement or conflict. It is certainly preferable when things just work, and everybody is happy. But when conflict does happen, good things can come of it.
Is everyone completely happy with how things turned out? Absolutely not. But I think I am okay with that. Of course we will continue to pursue resolution of differences, but the simple fact of the matter is that human beings disagree with one another, and often. If I managed to last a whole year in an editorial position without raising the ire, suspicion, or disgruntlement of at least one individual, I would begin to wonder if I was doing something wrong.
As a group, Principians do not always do an excellent job of communication in such ego-bruising situations. We tend to tiptoe around one another’s opinions. For the most part nobody gets upset, because we shy away from direct interpersonal conflict. When it does happen, though, it is epic. At Principia, we just seem to be bad at conflict resolution. You would think that it’s something we would be particularly good at.
When one says things like “I was divinely led” to justify one’s actions or opinions, even if one only says this to oneself, it is hard to hear the voice of the other. Naturally, we should seek inspiration in our every action: I am not making a case for relativism, but for discourse. Good solutions emerge from inspired discussion — the integrity of discussion requires the willingness of each voice to respect the other voice, and this in turn requires that participants let go of their ego-attachment to a particular opinion in order to hear the voice of the other. When this ego-voice has religious justification, this can be difficult.
There are three steps that we can take to survive the brutal, howling pit of human opinion and emerge from the discourse unruffled, nay enriched. First, do not take offence — hurt feelings simply escalate a situation. Second, listen to other. Even in cases where I absolutely stick by a particular judgment call, realizing why somebody else is upset is a significant step towards resolution. Third, let go of religious justifications and let opinion be opinion — it is just too easy to confuse the still, small voice of the ego with the still, small voice of God.