"The Value of Voices" By Provost Bill Bussey
Years ago, I did a favor for an acquaintance that he greatly appreciated. Soon after, I met his wife and we were enjoying a casual conversation when she asked me whether I was Republican or a Democrat. I was, and still am, a lapsed and conflicted Republican, but press me on it, and I will answer Republican, if for no other reason than to honor my parents. As soon as I responded “Republican,” she waved her hands, rolled her eyes and said, ”Oh, you’re one of those.” And from that moment on, the conversation was over. I recently shared this story with a friend who is a Democrat, and he replied, “Not so fast there. I was playing golf with three Republican friends, and….” You can guess how that ends.
As the presidential election mires itself in the “slings and arrows” of outrageous discourse, many of us share our thoughts and feelings with only those we sense view the world in a similar vein. Social circles, too, are often limited to some degree to people who share our same social concerns and “values.” Understandably, most folks prefer a relaxed evening out that doesn’t include enduring a political donnybrook. There’s nothing new about that. But things, and not just the distribution of wealth, have changed for many Americans. Time spent relaxing with friends or going out for the evening has given way to more isolated endeavors or working longer hours. Many of us delve less enthusiastically into anything spontaneous or unpredictable. And I’m not talking about simply growing older. Stints that were for many part of being a New Englander—a weekend on the coast, tickets to the Celtics, or a even a clambake—just aren’t as common. Regular attendance at church and temples has declined. Is it any wonder that the community cords that have been crucial in keeping our neighborhoods and this nation together appear frayed?
Many Americans remember how, in decades past, the best Republicans and Democrats in Congress not only worked with each other but also prioritized the needs of their constituency, especially when it came to enforcing laws or helping the impoverished. The current dismissive broad-brushing from both sides of the political spectrum is the result of a nation whose people, for various reasons, feel alienated from their immediate community. Many feel that their rightful position in society no longer matters or that their avenue to be heard has been blocked. When people feel that they don’t matter, that they are not valued, is it any surprise that many withdraw from community involvement as others join forces to rage against a machine that seems indifferent to their existence?
As a teen growing up in Maine, I experienced kindness and patience, which I took for granted but never forgot. That care has served as the guiding backbone of my Nobles experience. Nobles is indeed like a small town—in many ways like the one I bounced around as a kid. In the decades that followed my first steps on this campus, my faith in my colleagues and the mission of the school, despite the inevitable differences of opinion, has seldom wavered. While understandable anger and frustration currently grips our nation’s debates, our community continues to strive to ensure that forthright, civil discourse and the exchange of ideas that foster creativity, understanding, and passion continue to be the foundation of all that we do. If our students are to gain the confidence to be active citizens of the world, is there a better place to start than making sure that every member of this community genuinely believes that they are valued and that their voice need not rage to be heard?
We have each other. We believe in who we are. And that matters.