Your must read of the week comes our way via Bruce Frohnen at Crisis Magazine:
More than twenty-five years ago, in The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom pointed out that college students in the United States had become very “nice.” Students in general did not want to offend anyone and there was a constant concern to protect one another’s feelings. Bloom meant this as a half-hearted, even backhanded compliment at the time. It shouldn’t be seen as any kind of complement any longer. In fact, niceness has become the enemy of excellence in our universities, and its pervasive role is setting up our young people and our society for failure and an especially venal form of soft despotism.
“Niceness” is a rather shallow set of habits and attitudes more concerned with comfort than engagement, ease than excellence, contentment than striving to do one’s best. It was and is the perfect complement to our contemporary liberal insistence on “tolerance” as the chief virtue. Tolerance, after all, means simply allowing others to do and/or say what we may not like. When one takes things like religious faith and doctrine seriously, toleration can lead to spirited debate and vigorous pursuit of the truth, to everyone’s betterment. We accept that others may hold views we believe are wrong, even dangerous, because the only way to truly change hearts and minds is through civil discourse and example.
Unfortunately, when truth comes to be seen as subjective, toleration becomes the chief virtue, and it comes to mean simply ignoring one’s fellows, in essence not caring what others do. If you leave me alone to do what I want, I’ll leave you alone to do what you want—whatever it is, because truth and virtue don’t really matter, and probably don’t exist in any event. All we have are our own preferences, so that our chief duty is to ignore one another’s actions. The result is a culture in which religious faith is viewed in the same manner as any other “hobby,” whether it is stamp collecting or group sex. In the same way, “niceness,” as opposed to the discipline of civility, can mean simply not caring whether anyone is right or wrong, reasonable, unreasonable, or simply lazy, so long as no one bothers to challenge anyone else.
That we have long since reached the point where niceness is a barrier to the pursuit of excellence was reinforced, for me, by a small item in a journal for college teachers. It seems a Canadian college professor got himself in hot water for failing to be nice. Attending a journalist’s lecture to students, this professor was frustrated at one student who said young people don’t vote because they don’t understand the political system, finding it too complicated. The professor interjected “Read a book, for God’s sake.”
Read the rest. Pass this one around.
It's truly a must read.
It's something I think to be so very important to cover.