Karl Douglass: Choosing to learn others' perspectives

November 30, 2013 

Around this time every year, I call each of my college roommates. The five of us lived together on campus for the majority of our college careers. One roommate was a third generation legacy at the school. Another was the son of an influential West Coast pastor. The third was a native New Yorker with a keen understanding of economics. The fourth, a gifted writer who came to college from a Quaker prep school.

Then there was me, a kid from Georgia who graduated from public school and was making his first extended stay north of the Mason Dixon line.

I wouldn't trade anything for the time the five of us lived together on campus, but our collective life was not always rosy. We had starkly different politics -- one of my roommates was a far right Republican. We certainly didn't share faith traditions -- one roommate was effectively an atheist and another a Bahà'i. And we constantly argued who wasn't pulling their weight on the hall chores and who wasn't respecting the other roommates.

In spite of our differences and conflicts, we chose to renew our roommate relationship every year. When the housing conversation came up and each of us was given the option of rooming with someone new the next school year, we declined. We chose to stick together.

Sticking together gave us the chance to learn from the other guy's perspective. That was as valuable as anything we learned in class. We found ways to navigate our conflicts and recognize the things we had in common. We figured out how to care about each other's hopes and dreams even if those hopes and dreams seemed unimportant to us.

I tell people that my four roommates and I exemplified how a group with diverse ideas and beliefs can live together productively. It's an example that deserves more focus in the United States of America today. Our country has sharp divisions right now. Citizens are self-segregating by fleeing to homogenous communities, seeking to establish new cities and even offering secession motions in various legislatures. But, we can live together productively if we decide that's what we want to do. My roommates and I did year after year after year. Ours was a small model, but it was definitely a working model.

My roommates' lives now are as different as they were back in college. One is a Tea Party spokesman. Another is a deputy sheriff. The third is a venture capitalist. The fourth, a journalist. That's why I make sure to call them, a lot actually, but around this time of year especially. I call them because I am thankful for them. We still argue and disagree about many of the issues of the day, but also recognize the importance of each other's perspectives. We all agree that our talks lead each of us to better decisions on a whole range of questions at the end of the day. And we all agree that choosing to stick together works.

Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.

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