Civility and Friendship Found During Cornel West and Robert George Talk

The last decade of American politics has brought polarizing viewpoints to everyday discourse, at times alienating and dividing communities. Polytechnic School’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statement asserts that, “conformity of thought is not required. At Poly, we value all cultures and ethnicities and the richness they bring to our shared community.” It is a statement we strive to enact in our teaching, learning, and community.

Last summer, Head of School John Bracker attended a discussion between Professors Cornel West and Robert George, two intellectuals with varying viewpoints but a lasting friendship that has allowed them to bridge an ideological divide and truly hear one another. This past December, the two were invited to speak to the Poly community about divergent points of view, civility, and friendship. It brought together the Poly community for a night of thoughtful discussion and a chance to evaluate these principles in our own lives.

Professors Cornel West and Robert George shared the inner workings of their friendship with the audience, bringing warmth, humility, and compassion to a sometimes uncomfortable discussion. Professor George kicked off the talk by recounting a “doozy of conversation” with Professor West that went on for hours and how the two challenged their opinions to create a relationship.

“There are still elements of a certain kind of conformity that need to be examined until the worms get your body,” said Professor Cornel West. “That is something that all of us, no matter what our politics are, no matter what color we are, and so forth, can learn from.”

Student moderators Jason M., Megan H., and Opal H., all class of 2022, posed thoughtful questions to the speakers from attendees, asking them to examine what civility means and how we can apply such learning to our own community. 

“I think my main takeaway was the importance of putting in work to friendships,” said Opal H. “Sure, friendship can be easy, but some friendships can be even more valuable because of the work that must go into them for the relationship to thrive.”

It was an opportunity for all to recommit to civil discourse and active listening in our learning environment. A main theme of the evening is having the humility to accept that one might be wrong, and listening to someone even when it is uncomfortable.

“It is important for all of us to remember that we can have deep convictions and still listen to someone else's point of view,” said John Bracker following the talk, “willing to listen or to truly engage with someone who disagrees with me, does not make me weak nor naive.”

In the New Year, Poly looks forward to more conversations like these, in classrooms, between faculty and staff, and within our community. To learn more about bridging ideological divides through friendship, listen to the full conversation here.