To continue the theme of being the world’s worst meta English and history of art major, this column will be highly self-referential and will refer to my two previous columns for the News, one of which was, unsurprisingly, about comments on other articles.
I’ve joked that in the first column I wrote, I created a situation fraught with anxiety leading to exactly zero comments on the story, and that with the second, I incited a revolt of secret Yale Shakespeare nerds and Harold Bloom haters (sorry, Professor Bloom). But as I’ve thought about the responses I received, I can no longer brush them aside jokingly: the two incidents are symbolic of larger problems and patterns at Yale and in the world.
The morning that my second op-ed was published, I woke up to two emails from prominent voices in the Shakespearean authorship debate, both of whom took me to task for calling them snobs (though I merely stated that snobbery seemed the root of the movement to ascribe Shakespeare’s plays to anyone but Shakespeare). I haven’t responded to either of them, mostly because I have nothing to say except I’m sorry that we don’t agree. They won’t change my mind; I won’t change theirs.
What was more concerning than these emails was how rapidly the comments on the online version of the article denigrated into attacks on Yale and even, to some extent, me. (Apparently I missed a modifier. Sorry.) David Scott Kastan, the Yale professor who taught me much of what I know about Shakespeare, generously told me to not take it personally. But I did.
I took these comments personally because they were everything that I was afraid the comments on my first article would be: unproductive, mean-spirited, digressive. The emails I received from our two self-proclaimed Shakespearean authorities were similar in tone. No one wanted to talk to me: they wanted to talk over me.
The email responses I received to my first piece were, in contrast, highly supportive. Friends told me they had been following the News’ website with trepidation for months. I was flattered and surprised by these responses. Students at Yale seemed excited at the though of more accountability, more transparency, more productive conversations. And yet we all seemed afraid to begin these conversations, or to establish expectations about how we should communicate.
We need to create a culture of transparency among our friends and in our society so we can really talk — and also so we can really disagree. In watching the recent developments in the American politics, I am struck by how hard it is for anyone — the politicians especially — to have meaningful conversations. Instead of focusing on the number of affairs a politician has had (though I admit these affairs signal a shocking lack of personal integrity), why can’t we discuss the capacity of the politician in question to have a nuanced, thoughtful conversation, which seems a far more important characteristic for a president than who he or she is sleeping with? As a country, we seem to have become terrified of ambiguity, horrified that we’ll have to acknowledge the things we don’t know and the things we can’t agree on.
I watch myself participate in these same kinds of behavior — watch myself avoid hard conversations and particular people, ignore text messages. I’ve considered why I am so anxious in these moments. Is it only that I am the chronically sleep-deprived Yale student who avoids conflict out of exhaustion? Or I am something else — a person who is afraid to own up to complicated, messy feelings and even more afraid to talk about them for fear of losing friends, losing face, admitting to vulnerabilities I don’t like to share? Perhaps I am afraid of being disappointed if I do have difficult conversations and terrified of being hurt in the aftermath.
I have to hold myself to the same standards of personal accountability that I demanded of commenters on the News’ website. A desire to avoid accountability and productive discourse is at the root of so many of our problems, including our problems with hookups and drinking at Yale. This was certainly the case with the recent WEEKEND article (“Just say no (to awful sex),” Jan. 20) about sexual interactions at Yale, and the comments on the News website have further demonstrated the extent to which it’s hard to have meaningful and constructive conversations. I don’t want to continue to be a part of these problems.
I’ve come to one conclusion: We won’t change political, personal or published discourse unless we become braver and take accountability for our own feelings, asking for what we really want instead of trying to avoid disappointment or complications. Maybe it’s time for me to email the Shakespeare people back. They deserve better from me than what I’ve given thus far.
Zoe Mercer-Golden is a junior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.