A recurring theme in my life this week has been the power of challenge, and what it does to shape the person that you are.

The first instance which prompted me to think about it was, unfortunately, the death of my uncle a week ago tomorrow. He had been sick for several years, and passed peacefully. And the thing I will remember most about him was that he was the first adult to challenge me. When you’re a kid, adults tend to either lay down rules and punish you for diasgreeing, or allow you to believe you’re right (even if you’re not). But my Uncle Simon and I argued. For example, he didn’t have a microwave in his house for ages, for fear of the radiation they emitted. He was convinced they weren’t safe. I never understood that, and we had some heated discussion about that. Another example was the ends of chicken bones. He railed against me for wasting them, insisting that the antibiotic quality was lost if I left them behind (a fact which, of course, he is correct about). But I remember arguing with him, disagreeing with him, really being challenged. 

But I learned from that. I learned to defend a position I believe in. I learned to think critically about both sides of something. For example, what did I do after the microwave argument? I looked it up. In BOOKS, because we didn’t get the Internet for another few years 🙂 I learned that an argument doesn’t always have to be personal, or emotional, or even particularly hard fought. But when it is, there’s something to be learned from it. And in later years, when we spoke less often and he would let me know he was proud for all the work I was doing, I don’t think I ever told him what role he played in that ability to reason and debate. I wish I had.

Thanks, Uncle Simon. You’re looking pretty fresh.

 Those lessons flooded back to me today as Eric Stoller and Ann Marie Klotz debated the social structures that informed her well-received blog post this morning. Each stood his or her ground, each spoke rationally, and each lent his or her opinion to the discourse. And unlike so much bickering and anger we saw so openly during election week, it was civil and composed. No irrational threats of unfriending or personal attacks, just heated discussion about an issue each party was passionate about. And when the discourse needed to fade (after all, it was a workday!), it did peacefully. They embraced the civility I called for last week in the wake of the election results. 

I’m glad I had someone so special in my life to teach me the importance of challenge, and particularly glad to be able to see it exemplified in two professionals who I admire for their ability to challenge others, and to challenge me in dissecting their discourse.

How do you deal with challenge?

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Challenge

  1. The thing I am most proud of from my work at Santa Fe last year is that several of my students told me how much I challenged them. They would even warn each other (in a joking way) if I was meeting someone new. What a great post about the importance of challenge. I love arguing and always enter with curiosity (well, not always) but too often get frustrated if I'm challenged long term. Something to work on.

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