Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Can I make a suggestion to Harvard Law School? (Which raises the age old zen question: If a non HLS grad raises his voice in Cambridge, and no one at Harvard is listening, does it make any difference?)

Instead of a "free speech policy," why not try a "caritas" policy?

Requiring people not to give offense is an impossible task at any place with such a policy. The sense of grievance too many people arrive at colleges and graduate schools with these days is only encouraged by such nonsense. "You are right to feel aggrieved, and here is how we shall punish the malefactors as soon as you report them to us" is not a statement calculated to calm an ardent spirit.

But a "caritas" policy (so named because few people realize that "charity" means more than dumping a couple of quarters in the Salvation Army bucket while avoiding eye contact with the bell ringer at all costs) would encode into law something Harvard grads all seem to believe they possess by divine right: virtue. Require students to construe charitably everything they hear; require them to find the least offensive way of understanding what is said to them. Require them to suppose that a person who speaks even ignorantly might not in fact be willfully ignorant, might indeed be at Harvard in order to overcome his ignorance. In return, require speakers to construe complaints against themselves charitably. Require them to apologize for offense given even when it resulted from a misunderstanding. Require them to listen quietly when the specific nature of the offense is explained.

The paradox of a "free speech policy" is that it requires students to *be* virtuous but still can punish them. A "caritas" policy only requires students to *act* virtuous, whatever their private feelings may be.


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