Let’s Not Think Like Adolescents by George Wolfe

Let’s Not Think Like Adolescents
by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

Much of the rhetoric today from political candidates from both parties is rife with simplistic sound bites. This makes for good stump speeches and presents us with neat, dualistic, either-or choices, but it fails to inform the public of the many issues involved when trying to solve complex modern-day problems.

“Repeal Obama Care;” but what will you replace it with to keep uninsured people from flooding hospital emergency rooms? “Bomb the hell out of ISIS;” but how will you avoid killing civilians, particularly innocent women and children? According to Donald Trump, “There is no drought [in California]”. . . . “We’re going to solve the water problem.” Really? By redirecting water from where? And at what expense?

Bernie Saunders proposes to make attending a university tuition free, but he shows little insight into the complexities of financing higher education. Older, well-established universities can have huge endowments which enable them to offset tuition through both merit and need-based scholarships, while other smaller universities don’t share that advantage. And Saunders neglects the strategy of many schools that impose extraneous fees to support tech labs, health care facilities and activities related to athletics and student affairs. In addition, the cost of housing while attending college well exceeds tuition.

A more realistic proposal might be to start by making the first year of college tuition free to encourage people to continue their education. Once students begin their college education, they may be more likely to remain in the system and complete either a two-year or four-year degree.

If we consider the pertinent issue of illegal immigration, the phrase “Round up and deport all illegal immigrants” is an effective one-liner when used in a political debate. But it neglects the human side of the issue. Should we do this even at the expense of separating children from their families and sending people back to neighborhoods ruled by violent drug lords? And who will then perform the vital yet often menial jobs that these immigrants are wiling to accept? And how can we pay for the treatment of American drug users who buy the drugs and are actually responsible for much of the economic success and power of the drug lords? How can our trade policies help alleviate the abject poverty in Central American countries that lures people into becoming the pawns of drug lords?

The problem with simplistic rhetoric is that it imprisons the mind and inhibits our ability to problem solve in nuanced and creative ways.

William G. Perry, a noted Harvard student development theorist, categorized traditional college students (that is, ages 18 to 22), as being predominately dualistic thinkers in their freshman year. As they mature, they become more able to accept multiple viewpoints and eventually become comfortable with what he called “commitment in relativism.” According to Perry’s model, a simplistic, dualistic thought process is the immature thinking of adolescents.

As an educated populace, we must not settle for simplistic sound bites from our politicians. Rather, we should demand thoughtful answers that take into account multiple viewpoints and that above all, are truthful.


George Wolfe is the Coordinator of Outreach Programs for the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and is the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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