Sammy Roth ’12 responds to “The politics of friendship”

Last month’s Chronicle featured an editorial called “The politics of friendship.” I wholeheartedly agree with its overall message: Harvard-Westlake should foster a welcoming environment for students with political opinions of all stripes, and politics should never get in the way of friendships. But the editorial also made these statements:

“We’re informed, but only to a certain extent. We’re not on Capitol Hill and most of us don’t spend countless hours thoroughly researching topics before voicing our opinions. How can we possibly justify a claim that another person’s point of view is absolutely wrong when we don’t have the information to back it up?…And when it comes down to it, we’re still just kids…We don’t have the perspective to fully understand all sides of an issue…A controversial topic is controversial for a reason. If there was a clear right and wrong for an issue, it would have been resolved already.”

To summarize: You’re not informed enough, you’re too young to really understand the issues, and if there were obviously right answers someone would have found them by now. So who are you to think you know what you’re talking about?

I ask any Harvard-Westlake student who believes this, including those who wrote it, to reconsider.

Harvard-Westlake students might not be professional politicians, but they’re much more informed than most people. They pay attention to the news, they know the facts, and they’re really, really smart. And they might be young, but that doesn’t make their opinions invalid.

Of course you should never tell someone that he or she is wrong if you can’t explain why. But it’s impossible to know everything about every issue, and if Harvard-Westlake students can’t be trusted to debate issues, then few can.

And yes, controversial topics are controversial for a reason. There is great disagreement on how to address problems like climate change, and the national debt, and illegal immigration, but we’re never going to solve them without the hard work and determination of people who passionately believe that they know how. As long as you’re willing to listen to and learn from others, believing that your opinion is right is a good thing.

Harvard-Westlake students will be the voters and leaders of tomorrow, the ones who will be tasked with having these important debates, and, ultimately, arriving at solutions. Right now they should be free to develop their voices, to confidently argue for what they believe.

So I urge Harvard-Westlake students: Stay informed, and don’t be afraid to voice your opinions just because you’re not an expert. Be open to other opinions, but don’t feel compelled to doubt what you believe. Never let your politics get in the way of your friendships, but never be afraid to respectfully tell a friend why he or she is wrong.

—Sammy Roth ’10
Columbia ’14