Dear Princeton community,
Amidst the ongoing speculation about the nature of The Daily Princetonian’s choice to reorganize its editorial board, I think it’s time to recognize that we, the student body of opinionated liberals and conservatives, are more alike than we would think. None of us — even the most constitutionally minded — are immune to making off-the-cuff, overly-partisan infractions against free speech that serve more as libelous attacks than beacons of clarifying political rhetoric. In short, we all, liberals and conservatives alike, should shoulder the blame for why our society has become so reactionary and fractionated.
We cordon ourselves off based on arbitrary divisions that we believe allow us to correctly decide if the sharing of “hate speech” is morally right or wrong, to the point where we reach a politicized stalemate that resolves nothing. Instead, in an eagerness to assert our side’s political dominance and demonize anyone who disagrees with us, we overlook the fundamental impression that words can leave on our consciences and hearts as members of the human race, regardless of our political identities. We’re ignoring the glaring reality that words can be acts of violence used against us all. Thus, I hope to provide a firsthand account that sufficiently evinces why — the First Amendment aside — it’s vital that we pay attention to how we use and share our language with one another.
In looking back on my first few pieces that I wrote for the ‘Prince,’ I concede that they may have found a more logical niche in the Tory environment, given the right-leaning subject matter. However, it was never my intention to become a conservative, or even a politicized, voice on campus. Unfortunately, due largely to the unsolicited support my work received from people who might identify as “arch-conservatives,” I was bombarded with a slew of derogatory responses from none other than those proclaiming themselves to be enlightened “proud liberals,” “minority feminist defenders,” or “pro-Hillary Democrats” in their social media profiles. I was stunned that those people — and paradoxically enough, the very people I had thought were “my crowd” and whose acceptance I had been seeking — would so boldly point fingers at me and call me a “racist” and an “embarrassment to Princeton.” But worst of all were those who threatened that I should “stop writing” if I didn’t want to “regret my having published such trash.”
At first it was easy to discount my detractors as extremists whose intentions were not so much to forward their own political stance as they were to juvenilely hurt my feelings. There was a cushion between myself and my computer screen that made me feel safe. In fact, I was perfectly satisfied in standing by my convictions, until I realized that many of those people sending me hateful rants and ill-wishes were familiar faces. They were fellow students in my precepts, people I had casually spoken to in the dining halls, friends of friends, and even other ‘Prince’ columnists.
Considering the smothering pall of negativity surrounding my work, I decided I would switch tactics. I know that I stunned some of my former supporters in a bid to overtly garner approval from what I assumed was a reliable readership comprised of millennial lefties. I’ll be honest and say that I wrote about whatever I thought would be “woke” and attract positive buzz: blame Trump, out myself as a feminist, etc.
It was naïve to pretend that my new liberal stance would not receive criticism and attacks from conservatives. In retrospect, I was foolish to think that I could pull a total overhaul of my public persona from one extreme to another and miraculously gain a following of sheep-like champions. Thus, unsurprisingly, the new me was met with even more inappropriate vitriol. Ironically, however, this time the diatribes were posted by the very same commenters who had originally lauded my early work.
Finally, I’m ready to be open about what was said. Someone — clearly male — commented on my last article suggesting that I was so idiotic that I didn’t deserve to get into Princeton; in his words, “she doesn’t have much of a brain” and instead has only “withered lady parts.” Silly as it sounds, the threatening, sexist tone of the comments that I received obliterated any barriers I had constructed in my mind between my understanding of my personal character and the feedback my work was receiving. Needless to say, reading those words over and over made me so nervous that I spent an evening in McCosh. I tried really hard to laugh them off and pretend as though I were above being offended, without realizing, plain and simple, that I had every right to be hurt. I sat for an hour and cried and decided that I would quit The Daily Princetonian. I didn’t want to embarrass myself, and more importantly, I didn’t want to embarrass my editors, the ‘Prince,’ Princeton University, and my family. This train of thought quickly spiraled into an unhealthy feeling of self-hatred that’s prevented me from being able to confidently write an opinion or want to publish for the last week.
It’s clear that we all have the capacity to be overly sensitive “snowflakes” and that we’re all equally prone to becoming offensive in our defenses of our political beliefs. In essence, we are all able to impinge on other’s rights and disempower them, spreading messages of intolerance. We’re often too busy justifying the correctness of our own opinions to recognize the true physical, mental, and most importantly, emotional impact that our Twitter rages and angry emails and Facebook unlikes can have on others. That is to say, it’s not the liberals who are right for policing any non-liberal speech nor the conservatives who are right for defending all forms of speech, offensive or not, at any cost. Neither approach seems to have had any positive impact on our society, and has instead led to even greater and more ridiculous partisan fights.
I know that I’m not the only victim of such politically motivated, comical ad hominem attacks coming from fellow opinionated people. I’ll also be the first to admit that I am guilty of wrongfully and senselessly attacking others — from President Eisgruber to President Trump — based solely on my guttural, animalistic reactions to their political positions.
This verbal, quick-fire tit-for-tat needs to stop. In such a divisive age, what we need now more than ever is to exercise our ability to look beyond our often self-defining political, ethnic, and socioeconomic divisions. In our words of disagreement, we can at least choose to exercise a little human empathy for our neighbors and fellow community members to maintain cordiality.
Hayley Siegel is a sophomore from Princeton, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.