Need improved engagement

To the editor:

Michigan Tech hosted Congressman Jack Bergman of the U.S. House of Representatives (MI-1st District) this week, and I am grateful he accepted the students’ invitation to come. I attended with a question in mind from my conversations with Michigan Tech students in a class I teach; however, faculty and staff were encouraged to give students priority in asking their questions. Therefore, I listened to the concerns of the students and Congressman Bergman’s responses as did other faculty and staff present. I was proud of the students who stood at the mic and raised concerns on everything from funding for the sciences to the Affordable Care Act to DACA and more.

However, I was deeply troubled by several responses. The Congressman refused to engage in any discussion or take any position on DACA when asked.

In response to another student, he said he supported President Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Arpaio; yet when asked if he could elaborate on why, he simply said “no.”

In another instance, a student asked when he would draw the line and check the executive branch if it acts against the interests of the country. He simply responded that he would draw the line when he needed to, with no engagement in the specific issues the student listed.

These responses took me back to my question I had entered the room with: Can our elected officials demonstrate “moral humility” in order to serve our country? Moral humility is a concept advanced by researcher Jonathan Haidt and others to encourage us to develop self awareness of our moral positions and consider that the moral positions of others stem from legitimate, but often different, moral concerns.

Haidt’s research found that liberals tend to focus on mainly two dimensions of morality, while conservatives tend to draw on these plus three others. Rather than villainizing the other side, Haidt suggests a productive tension engaging both sides brings new perspectives to the table.

After being exposed to Haidt, a Michigan Tech undergraduate reminded our class this week that opening our minds to consider other positions and perspectives is key to innovation and creative solutions. Any effective leader, he suggested, should bear this in mind.

I would like to challenge Congressman Bergman to better engage with his constituents of diverse viewpoints rather than shutting down these conversations, so we can work together.

Kari Henquinet