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Jul 17, 2023

The Irony of the Irrational Ire

You know what's both fascinating and utterly bizarre? The tiny tempests that brew in teapots within the academic realm. People in these hallowed halls are supposed to be the vanguard of rational thinking and empathy, right? But how often they stew, steam, and explode over trivialities, maintaining grudges for years, even decades, is somewhat of an ironic riddle.

A tenured professor, holding onto a grudge like it's the last piece of chalk in the lecture hall because someone, ages ago, didn't get them the class schedule they wanted. It's like a performance of "Les Misérables," but instead of being about the plight of the French despondent class, it's about who got the cushy 10 am slot on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Where's the melodrama around the profound disagreements on the ontological nature of being, or intense debates about structural inequalities? They are replaced with seething resentment over who put and did not put with item on the meeting agenda, and who was thanked publicly, and who was not. Someone said a harsh word to me three years ago, and I cannot just get over it.

Surely this is just being human, right? We are, after all, a species both blessed and cursed with intense social emotions. But there's something particularly stinging about the persistence of these grudges within academia. Our supposed intellectuals, are so blinded by fury, they fail to see the common ground, the shared aspirations, the similar visions for making the world a better place. The inability to forgive and move all can be utterly astounding, and past offenses keep regenerating new ones automatically.

And isn't it paradoxical that this rage flourishes precisely because universities are, relatively speaking, fantastic places to work? There's no impending danger of being fired, no scarcity of resources threatening survival. Maybe it's that evolutionary itch to form cliques, assert dominance, protect territory, with no 'real' enemy to direct it at, that fuels these petty conflicts.

Here's the thing: We humans have this knack for identifying 'us' and 'them,' even when 'us' and 'them' are colleagues working in the same department, teaching the same courses, making the same little money.

Sometimes, the fallout from these academic wars is so severe, it begins to spill into student life. The classroom turns into a battlefield, with scholars enlisting partisan followers from among their students. Mutual complaints are launched with HR urging to investigate supposed crimes that sometimes are so tiny, one needs a microscope to see them. Suddenly, the pursuit of knowledge becomes secondary to navigating the social maze of these tempests in teapots.

I find myself dreaming of a world, or at least an academia, where people could muster the strength to behave just a smidgen better. Where disputes were settled through respectful dialogue and not through vendettas carried out across semesters. It's a small dream, a trivial thought, really. But imagine the difference it would make, the ideas that could bloom in an atmosphere stripped of resentment and filled with collaboration.

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