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"Changing Our Minds IS Exactly Why We're Here"


What the world demands of us all:  Open-mindedness, the courage to allow others to challenge our beliefs, the power to display ignorance while modestly accepting that our current view may no longer apply, and the humility to sincerely consider contrary opinion. Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University spoke of these needs in his recent address to Columbia graduates.

To tickle your curiosities see the excerpts below.  Better still, access the text of the full address.


Commencement Address 2013 - Lee Bollinger - Columbia University President

...When the world has real problems to solve, it needs real opportunities to find out about those problems and then debate solutions.

But here’s what you also need to know!  None of this happens naturally.  Freedom of thought and expression are counter-intuitive.  They are always viewed with fear and trepidation about leading to disorder, to a decline in values, to chaos.  Indeed, in the United States it took almost two centuries before seditious libel laws were seen as antithetical to good public decision-making.  Nobody in power likes criticism.  Hell, even I don’t like it, and it’s my field!  The simple truth is that being part of genuine open debate is hard work for anyone.  We prefer order, opinions that reinforce our own beliefs, not to have to explain and justify our beliefs, and definitely not to have to change our minds.  But changing our minds is exactly why we’re here.

And, so, while you will live in a world with more promise for humanity than ever before, with obstacles and problems and issues of true planetary magnitude, always remember that the incredible freedoms of mind and speech and the rigor of intellect you have experienced here have come somewhat recently and not come easily—and they are now an absolute necessity for the world you will inherit.

... The natural course of life from here is to make you ever more specialized.  You will become experts in something.  That’s the nature of how modern life is organized, and there’s a lot to be said for it.  Besides, it’s nice to be an expert.  You will achieve a certain respect, and you can hold forth at dinner parties.  But, as you progress through life, this will make it harder and harder for you to put aside your status as an expert and to set out to learn something new.  We naturally prefer to confer answers than to ask questions.  Displaying our ignorance becomes an increasingly untenable psychological proposition, it undermines our needed illusion for mastery over knowledge, and points up painfully the briefness of our existence.  But to give in to this impulse takes away the great joy of life.  A good life is one in which you feel you are always learning, when you are comfortable with always being a student. 

Access Bollinger's Full Commencement Address:

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