There is a story about the primatologist Frans de Waal reuniting with a chimp he had studied. When the two met after years apart, it is said that they were not blinded or affected by species differences; they were simply two primates happy to see a friend.

The point here is that gaps of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic and educational status – even species – do not have to matter in the course of dispute management.

In the context of widespread demonstrations on college campuses, it is tempting to suggest that university leadership generally made a grave management misstep. Instead of calling in a massive police response, and despite the likely influence of outside agents, if university leaders had acknowledged that the students might be raising valid and important concerns, much of the ugliness and escalating events might have been avoided.

University presidents could pledge to examine the institution’s endowments and investments to make certain that the involved corporations and individuals had no link to rogue regimes and other enemies of freedom. Such a response from leadership might yet modify the spiraling dangers of chaotic collective behavior.

We ought to strive to reclaim what it means to be compassionate and to express indignation in a cooperative manner. Asking questions of power and accountability is a standard to which we must hold ourselves. Then we can engage each other and our differences as primates happy to see a friend, and with the capacity to achieve common understanding and promote socially responsible activism.

Peter Pressman, MD
Winter Harbor, Maine

Edward McCulloch, PhD
Tuscon, AZ

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