Why the “Wittenberg Walk” is a Hoax

Our campus is plagued by a cultural disease—I’ll call it niceness.

We are always smiling at each other, tossing timed ‘how are yous’ to release hallway tensions, always nodding in agreement, always in the throes of small talk complaints, though it doesn’t seem we have the attention span or the courage to step out of the status quo and do anything about them. Nope.  Just keep calm, half smile and nod at people. We are too nice, too smiley, too agreeable here.

But so much of the niceness is vacuous. Are we made into better writers, artists, thinkers, athletes, people because people are nice to us?

Don’t get me wrong. The human position, I think, is such a fragile one that compassion and kindness seem the only appropriate response, but we have to expand our imagination about what that looks like in daily life. We’re fooling ourselves, and selling ourselves short, if we think this faux compassion, this niceness, is a substitute for genuine contact with our own humanity and the humanity of others.

Are we engaging our biases? Are we facing our fears? Or, have we ditched courage and defaulted to being nice because it’s riskless. On campus, when was the last time you argued with a non-friend about a something that mattered to you and instead of walking away disgruntled, were able to engage a new perspective?

We might actually accomplish something as far off as a true liberal arts education if half the effort we spent on maintaining campus niceness was on becoming authentic, developed and informed.

We need to create a culture of understanding instead of succumbing to fear. We know how to be nice; but we don’t know how to listen, how to converse, how to see, or how to love.

Witt is whitewashed. The happiness here is dingy, and tainted by the things we aren’t allowing ourselves to be or say in the sight of strangers.

The right tone of voice, the appropriate gesture (a smile) at just the right time. We’re in danger of creating a culture that makes us afraid of other emotions, expressions and enthusiasms—a culture where we must all interact with life in one homogenous way. We occupy robotic forms and continue on talking about how friendly everyone is, how nice we all are.

Does it not bother anyone else that, when we speak in class, most of our inflections are exactly the same, I feel like? See, I do it too! It’s like no one is sure whether they’re asking questions or making statements anymore. This is crazy. We recite words like passion and tolerance and diversity as we march in step like zombies to concoct a caricature of such ideals.

No one wants to be judged harshly or wrongly so what are we doing to promote openness and understanding in our lives and on our campus? For one thing, it doesn’t seem the dominant culture of niceness is doing it. And it’s scary; I get that. But where my brave people at? Is there anyone ready to cultivate a more honest, vibrant, campus culture ? I am. So stop smiling at me. No more.

Unless, of course, it’s genuine—in that case, thank you for sharing what life has stirred in you. It’s beautiful.

2 Comments

  1. Very nice piece. It seems Witt hasn’t changed much, or probably has gotten worse with the admins thinking they need to “sell” witt by whitewashing anything that can be remotely construed as offensive.

  2. I loved this piece. It describes my entire Wittenberg experience to a “t”. During my time at Witt I often felt that all of the “niceties” I endured were completely false. I was raised to value honesty and a lot of the time I felt as if I were drowning in a sea of fake smiles and false natures.

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