In an address in Memorial Church’s Appleton Chapel Tuesday, Harvard President Larry Bacow voiced his concerns about the growing inability of people to engage respectfully with those who hold different points of view, a problem he sees both on campus and in the wider world.
“How can we profess to be seekers of veritas, seekers of truth, if we shame and shun those who disagree with us?” Bacow said during the first Morning Prayers of the fall term. “How can we urge forbearance and generosity in others if we are unwilling to practice it ourselves? How can we have any hope for the wider world if we cannot model in our community the reasoned debate and discourse we wish to see elsewhere?”
Bacow related a story about Rabbi Hillel, one of the most important figures in Jewish history. When confronted by a skeptic who challenged Hillel to teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot, the religious leader responded: “What is hateful to you, do not do unto others,” he said, distilling the sentiment at the heart of the scriptures. “The rest,” the rabbi quipped, “is commentary.”