Protests, at times violent, have broken out in recent days against provocative right-wing speakers at U.C. Berkeley and NYU. The initial reaction has been to lay blame on the radical left who remain frustrated with their loss in last November’s election and what they consider the travesty of a Donald Trump presidency. On the other side, left-leaning conspiracy theorists have posited that the real ring-leaders behind the campus unrest are elements of the far right looking to gin up anti-left sentiment.
There are the two America’s we have heard so much about right there. One side revels in the Trump swagger in the face of what they see as America’s reduced standing in the world, while the other is frightened by the new administration’s impetuous unpredictability and lack of experience. But given that these campus protests actually reflect student beliefs, is it possible that what we are seeing isn’t simply a mirror held up to the nation’s political polarity, but more evidence of how overly catered to children now coming of age are, believing any challenge to their sensibilities is beyond the pale, regardless of which side of the political divide they may stand?
Part of what the college experience once offered was a broadening of perspective and challenges to closely held views. One reason to listen to an opposing argument, therefore, is to better calibrate one’s own hypotheses and conclusions. It is the same principle that suggests that it is better to train with others, or occasionally alter training regimens in order to avoid getting caught in a rut where growth is stunted.
But kids are impressionable. If they’ve been told how special they are their entire lives, they tend to buy into that concept, and now use it as their principle measuring stick. But when everyone is a winner, and everyone is special and deserving of praise, if anyone comes along and threatens that world view, the reaction can quickly rear up into expressions of indignation and shock.
So is it possible that these campus clashes may not simply be examples of extreme politic dialogue as much as the consequence of lenient parenting that has not prepared this generation for the bruising battles of the real world, battles that inevitably include losses as well as wins. Just asking.