We get stronger, not weaker, by engaging with ideas and people we disagree with, says Zachary R. Wood. In an important talk about finding common ground, Wood makes the case that we can build empathy and gain understanding by engaging tactfully and thoughtfully with controversial ideas and unfamiliar perspectives. “Tuning out opposing viewpoints doesn’t make them go away,” Wood says. “To achieve progress in the face of adversity, we need a genuine commitment to gaining a deeper understanding of humanity.


Think of someone you have recently disagreed with. Why did you disagree with them? What is your opinion on their attitude?




commited (adj) – dedicated
formative – relating to a person’s development
excruciating – intensely painful
counterforce – opposing force
disinvite – withdraw or cancel an invitation to
genuine – authentic


Think about it

Answer the questions below.
• Why was ”The Bell Curve” considered controversial?
• What advice did John Derbyshire give in his article published in 2012?
• What does Zachary say about his mother?
• What did she teach him about the attitude he should adapt towards opinions of other people?
• What does Zachary say about his school experience, both in terms of his relationships with peers and teachers?
• Why did Zachary invite controversial speakers to the campus? What is his opinion on their viewpoints, and their role in social evolution?
• How does Zachary describe his experience dining with Charles Murray?
• What does Zachary believe is necessary for society to achieve progress?


Practice makes perfect

Fill in the blank spaces with the words in CAPS used in appropriate forms.
To prepare myself to engage with __________ CONTROVERSIAL in the real world, I joined a group that brought ________ CONTROVERSY speakers to campus. But many people ________ FIERCE opposed this group, and I received ________ SIGNIFY pushback from students, faculty and my administration. For many, it was difficult to see how bringing controversial speakers to campus could be ________ VALUE, when they caused harm. And it was disappointing to me facing personal attacks, having my administration cancel speakers and hearing my intentions distorted by those around me. My work also hurt the feelings of many, and I ________ UNDERSTAND that. Of course, no one likes being offended, and I certainly don’t like hearing controversial speakers argue that feminism has become a war against men or that blacks have lower IQs than whites. I also understand that some people have experienced ________ TRAUMA experiences in their lives. And for some, listening to ________ OFFEND views can be like reliving the very traumas that they’ve worked so hard to overcome. Many argue that by giving these people a platform, you’re doing more harm than good, and I’m reminded of this every time I listen to these points of view and feel my stomach turn.


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