When I was eighteen (2005) I remember being told by an older peer, “be prepared to have your beliefs challenged when you go to college.” This comment (at the time pointed towards my religious beliefs, but would later entail moral, ethical, and political beliefs) did a few things to me. Initially, it made me nervous and scared to begin my college career. I did not want my beliefs challenged. I wanted to stay in my Western Oklahoman bubble. I did not want to be stumped with the “I have faith” answer. So, I stayed in my bubble, obtaining a 0.5 GPA after my first year at a JUCO. So, it was off to the army to find some WMAs in Iraq, after guys from Saudi Arabia forced us to go to Afghanistan. By the time I was twenty, my beliefs had been challenged more than I knew I wanted and more abruptly than I could have ever prepared for. Being an infantryman in the US Army does that to anybody — or it further solidifies those previously held.
So, 2010 rolls around, the newly epiphanized Josh is honorably discharged and off to college again. I went from a very structured and not-so-diverse setting (mostly white males) to one of the more diverse colleges in the state. To add to this, I had to be the “old” student in most classes at twenty-four. For the most part, everything was coasting until I began to take my major creative writing courses. These mostly include workshops, where your peers (mostly) constructively critique your masterpieces — and rip them to shreds. Poetry workshop became a place where my beliefs were once again challenged. I thought I had it all figured out.
For those who haven’t had been in a poetry workshop or classroom, I will preface by saying, most poets are left-of-center (loc). We may have all different backgrounds, and I do not want to speak for all poets, but I think those who did vote in 2017, did not vote for the current 45th. So, when a right-of-center (roc) poet comes into a poetry class, they are not used to being the minority in many situations. They may come off as short. They may come off as assertive. In effect, their piece may get harshly criticized by their loc peers, rather than a loc workshopping another loc. I see this all the time, and though it may be a natural response, we have to fight the urge to just shun off someone’s viewpoint or comments just because they may not align with our own.
We cannot fight for a world of tolerance while being intolerant to any argument other than our own. This creates robotic-like drones of humans, never being challenged, living in a cathartic world of stagnation. The point of poetry is to be a voice for everyone and everything. Poetry is meant to challenge and, in many ways, it is supposed to make people feel uncomfortable. Obviously, this tolerance of active listening is not limited to the poetry realm, or the university, but also outside. When the older white guy sitting at the bar argues against immigration into the US, or giving tax cuts to corporations, or proclaims they are pro-life strikes a nerve, do not automatically revert to your preconceived belief. I challenge you to try to understand their argument, and then make a judgement and constructive response. Although, in that particular example, the best thing is to really just not get into religion or politics at a bar!