Sep 142008
Authors: Anne Marie Merline

Classroom interactions and life can be truly exhilarating when there is honest and truthful dialogue between two people who have two different opinions on a topic.

As an instructor, I pride myself on my ability to facilitate a two-sided dialogue. In the classroom, it is opposing viewpoints that drive the discussions in the classroom to a place called “learning.” It is my job as an instructor to moderate these ideas so that we approach someplace called “the truth.”

As long as statements are made with respect, no question is out of bounds; no rebuttal is quieted, no comment is dismissed. This is the case, even though my students will tell you that I am an opinionated person.

I do not try to hide my stances on political or social issues. I couldn’t if I tried. I tell my students and people that I am beginning to know that I do not have a good poker face. I live an authentic life, speak my mind and express myself to the best of my ability.

This may close the door for the meek, but it opens doors for those who want to be challenged and truly educated.

Hopefully, in the classroom, we are studying the subject that we love the most — the subject that drives our intellect and our passions, that we want to explore and to spend the rest of our lives inquiring about and sharing with other people.

If your course of study is in the natural sciences, there is not much to agree or disagree with, but if you are willing to really think about it, there are always new ways of examining the topics you learn about. In the social sciences or humanities, there are always new ways of looking at the issues and new ways of expressing the ideas.

This philosophy not only holds true in the classroom, but also in our personal lives.

I try to convince myself that I am an open-minded person even outside of the classroom. Nothing shows one’s level of open-mindedness more than the degree to which you let someone become a part of your life who does not hold the same opinions as you.

People, unlike the topics that we encounter in the classroom, are not so straightforward.

When we meet people, we mostly take in information about their appearance, which is attractive to us or not. This is not the most important information.

We need to really communicate our ideas and questions to others in order to understand what they are all about. If we are looking for a mate, we need to ask ourselves if we are looking for a clone of our thoughts and actions, or if we are allowing for differences of opinion, or even a challenge to our opinions and actions to be a part of who that someone is.

Like the classes that I teach, the people to whom I am most attracted challenge my very core. Otherwise, I could stay home and talk to myself in a mirror.

In life, it seems that opposing viewpoints give way to an end to relationships. We dismiss others because they are “wrong.”

One thing I have learned is that no relationship, except that of a parent and child, is permanent.

I like to look at those who enter my life as journey partners. You enter into a relationship for as long as the journey together gives you joy. When the sadness outweighs the joy, you part. When you stop learning and growing together, the journey must come to an end.

My hope for you is that you find the courage and the risk-taking ability to be open-minded to ideas in the classroom and the opinions and experiences of other people that you encounter here on campus for the rest of your life.

Anne Marie Merline is an instructor for the University Honors Program. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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