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Where’s the fire?

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, August 31, 2005

One night last spring walking home from a late night studying in Lafortune, I heard loud shouting coming from a couple across the quad. Their argument – the content of which I had no idea – gave me renewed hope in Notre Dame students.

Every day, I hear plenty of jovial conversation and silly laughing – and that is great. It shows that we enjoy each other’s company and like to have fun. For me though, the good feelings, times and memories are not enough to have healthy, meaningful and transformational interactions. Some of the best relationships I have are littered with arguments, tense conversations and confrontational moments.

Quite simply, our lives are not meant to be all giggles and small talk. We do not change by taking what we get and being content. We do not help the people we care about by refusing to confront them when they need it. Lasting relationships are forged in the light of shared joys and the fire of shared pain and confrontation. I can remember one time my friend and roommate called me out on a flippant remark I made to her. I did not say it out of malice, but she told me she did not like it. Her standing up for herself to me – her friend – showed me her respect for herself and demand to be respected by me. Not only did I learn something about my friend, but also about myself – I say things that I do not really mean that may hurt people. That interaction was transformational and stayed with me. Without my friend’s courage to confront me, I would never have learned that lesson.

Why are we afraid to confront each other, to express our anger in public, or be anything but happy and quiet? I can only remember overhearing a few angry interactions in my entire stay at this school. Is Notre Dame an anger-free zone? A collegiate utopia? I doubt it.

With all the campaigns and efforts to reform our university, heated correspondence in The Observer and other publications and disgruntled student mumblings behind closed doors, we have got issues for sure. Yet, none of these translations of anger or stress turns into anything real.

For example, I have been a Viewpoint columnist going on my third year and have received a fair share of negative comments by e-mail from readers. However, e-mail to me is an innocuous medium – lacking the power of tone, gestures and passion in speech. Only 7 percent of conversation is the words we use – so e-mail to me is not my idea of confrontation. I have never had a conversation – face-to-face – with a disapproving reader and have comfortably stayed in my worldview. As much as I believe in my own ideas, forged by my own experiences, I would have welcomed an honest conversation from someone from a different perspective on an issue I raised.

We should not be afraid of anger; indeed it has produced some important developments in our society. Anger over segregation and racism produced the civil rights movement, anger over denial of full citizenship to women produced movements to gain the right to vote and anger over migrant working conditions produced the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the successful Taco Bell Boycott.

Anger gives us energy and connects our experiences and gut feelings to the disdainful things we see around us. Without it we are simply coasting in this life, biding our time till we leave this Earth in splendid isolation.

I believe we can be surrounded by people for all our lives, but never connect with or impact another if we refuse to confront each other; at the same time, we may be completely alone and have a tremendous effect on others. Thomas Merton lived away from the world as we would dub it in a monastery – yet his targeted and powerful writings impact people’s lives and choices even today.

The foundation of confrontation – whether to our friends, fellow Domers or the institutions that manage our lives – is compassion and love. When we care about a person or a community we want it to grow in a trajectory that is positive. When we love another person we are compelled to see the good and the bad – recognizing both in compliments and confrontation. When we love a place like Notre Dame, it should shame us to let fixable flaws go on without an objection. We are not perfect and – news flash – neither is our university.

To practice the love and respect demanded by our creed, we have got to show a little, maybe even a lot, of anger and confront people and issues when necessary. So keep speaking bravely to each other. You may not know it now, but that may have helped another change for the better.

Kamaria B. Porter is a senior history major and welcomes comments on these columns. Her email is kporter@nd.edu, but only as a last resort for real conversation.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.