From The Harvard Gazette:

The original framework for American democracy was hammered out amid heated disagreement and rigorous debate. Now, in this period of hardening political and social schisms, what’s hampering progress isn’t that we disagree, but how we do it or worse, try to avoid it altogether, panelists at Harvard Kennedy School argued Thursday evening. The discussion took place as the University kicked off “Harvard Dialogues,” a new series of events to build more open and respectful communication across campus. The talk sprang from a recommendation last fall by a Kennedy School working group of faculty, students, and staff to provide more opportunities for dialogue dealing with controversial topics as part of the School’s focus on improving public policy and leadership training.

Avoidance of conflict is counterproductive. Arthur Brooks, Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Public and Nonprofit Leadership at HKS and a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, said the tendency to give in to the human impulse to avoid things that make us feel bad or uncomfortable “infects” intellectual life at American universities. “This is the crisis that we’re having in academia today: We’re narrowing the range of acceptable opinion, and we’re canceling the people who don’t hold those opinions,” said Brooks. He likened college to an intellectual “gym” where instead of avoiding disagreements, students should test their ideas against the best ideological competitors they can find in order to become more skillful and to learn to work through feelings of discomfort. “We’re going in the wrong direction for happiness by protecting ourselves,” he said.