by Jasmine Hanna-Funk
On Parks and Recreation, midlevel government employee Leslie Knope gets into an argument with her husband and coworker Ben Wyatt about farmers’ markets at work, and Ben is frustrated not just because of the farmers’ markets but because Leslie won’t stop talking about them. He thinks they should have boundaries about what they talk about at work and home, so when Leslie tries to talk about farmers’ markets on their way home he gets out of the car and runs off trying to find somewhere they can’t talk about work. Leslie follows him, trying to convince him she’s right, and she eventually catches up to him standing in a fountain of freezing cold water. The two of them are standing in water up to their shins, Leslie is still talking about farmers’ markets, and Ben looks to her and says, “Sometimes when we disagree you’re so passionate I feel like I’m arguing with the sun.”
I’d like to see a lot of myself in Leslie Knope, she’s a confident woman in a male dominated field with a good head on her shoulders, and she sure knows how to debate an issue. And I’ve gotten criticisms like Ben’s: that it’s not always a great time to bring up an issue and I can be overpowering in arguments. But when I’m watching this episode I notice that if Ben put as much energy into talking with his wife about where they disagree instead of into avoiding the conversation all together, they would have concluded their discussion about farmers’ markets together much sooner. He should have leaned into the discomfort before it grew much worse. And on the other side, people like Leslie Knope and I who are clearly passionate about the issues we’re arguing about would most likely benefit from hearing differing opinions, like Ben Wyatt’s.
Schools are grounds for discomfort. So, if I were ever asked to speak at a high school, my goal would be to speak for what I believe to my very core and lean into the discomfort that follows. If I ever speak at a high school and silence everyone in the audience, I’m also shutting out all room for growth. My ideas would never get better, and that would be unfortunate for everyone involved. So even now, I welcome criticism in my writing and can only hope it leads to something good. I hope it’s not naïve for me to expect the same from other speakers.
I strongly believe that great things come out of leaning into discomfort, and protesting is an effective tool for advocacy and personal growth. Everyone is at a different place in their personal growth and coming from a different place in their advocacy for what they believe in, and so high schools are an especially tender place to protest with such diversity in great minds with strong opinions. For a speaker visiting a high school, I understand that the audience can feel messy. There are the students who’ve seen all your work, hated it, and spent the last few days putting together their best insults and criticisms to greet you with. There are the students who’ve seen all your work, loved it, and they know those first students are coming so they’re ready to fight too. And there are the students who’ve seen none of your work but they’ve heard about you coming and they’re ready to see the other students fight and maybe get in on the action. But none of that is going to happen until after you speak, so there’s a nice time slot for you to say your piece and high enough stakes to push you out of your comfort zone.
And so, to all those worried or uncomfortable with the discourse on campus,, I assure you that whichever students you agree with will not be enlightened or see your perspective or consider your feelings on the matter because of your absence. Quite the opposite, they could end up chasing their spouses into a water fountain over farmers’ markets.
Protesting is a dialogue and I encourage visiting speakers at high schools to participate in it willingly, like Danez and Hieu did during our lunch talk after the assembly. Not only will it lead to a conversation you might never have anywhere else, or a moment of self-realization, or a new way of thinking you hadn’t thought of before, but if you’re willing to sit down and talking with protesters, their protest will be over much sooner.