On Coles


To the Editors of The Crimson:

This is a letter of thanks to Robert Coles. It was prompted by the insensitive parody that was done of him in his Tuesday lecture. However, I want to say at the outset that, although my first reaction to this incident was rage at the prankster. I am not writing this letter to criticize either him or the Lampoon. It would have been impossible for anyone to foretell just how inappropriate the interruption would be, and in any case they have apologized.

I am writing this letter to share with the Harvard community some feelings about Robert Coles' course that this event clarified for me. As I watched Dr. Coles, after the man had left. I suddenly saw how vulnerable he was, standing there. I realized how easy it is to attack him. One can criticize him for being preachy, disorganized, or over-critical.

But there is an even more important reason why he is easy prey: because he bares his soul to us. He lets us see his values, his struggles, the contradictions with which his life is fraught. He chooses to be no more and no less than a human being to us. Not only does this make him open to attack, but it can hurt us if we let it, because it forces us to see our own humanness.

When I decide to listen to him and ask myself the questions that he asks himself and us. I feel terrified by my own helplessness and confusion about my life. Who needs to feel helpless and confused? So often I find it easier to close myself off by criticizing him and thereby not to hear him and not to have to ask questions.


But after Tuesday's lecture. I feel more strongly than ever that we must not harden ourselves like this. We are here at this University not merely to accumulate knowledge, but also to start deciding how we are to make sense of this world and lead our lives. It is a rare gift to us that Robert Coles will acknowledge that these issues are important ones, and will even ask us to think about them in the context of a Harvard course.

It is also easy to write him off because there is such a gulf that separates him from us. He is busy and often overcommitted, and we are preoccupied and confused. There are 500 of us and only one of him. Thus the gap grows and eventually we can no longer see him as a real human being. Once we have lost our awareness of his humanity it is easier for us to discount him, to pull insensitive pranks on him, not to show him the compassion he needs after being hurt.

I don't know how this gap can be bridged. I want to thank the courageous person who cried out. "We love you. Doctor," for that was a step in the right direction, a recognition of our responsibility as human beings. Perhaps the essence of what Robert Coles wishes to tell us is that responsibility exists, and that in exercising it we can bridge the gaps that separate us. He asks us to take on the challenge of being human, but more than that he takes it on himself by making himself vulnerable and sharing his journey with us. It is his personal testimony for which I am grateful. Ruthanna Hooke '85