Grant Hearne on Professor Carol Quillen’s “Being Human: Disciplinary Reflections”

Professor Quillen went back to early Italian humanists, specifically a letter from Machiavelli to Vettori in which Machiavelli describes his fascination with historical figures and a desire to be like them. Simultaneously, he identifies their differences, showing that others can be “both alien and exemplary.” Using this idea, Professor Quillen concluded that storytelling is how we should interact with one another. We should see people as “tellers of stories rather than speakers of positions.” In the status quo of neoliberalism, people who are labeled “other” are deemed inferior and unable to escape this label. Often, when minority stories are shared, they are shared, spread, or influenced by the majority, which changes the story itself. Rather than stealing each others stories, we have to step back and give space for stories to be shared by the teller. 

Professor Quillen also recognized that our understanding of history is limited by what has survived and what questions we ask about it. This results in different interpretations of the same truth based on different evidence and different questions asked. For example, Augustine and Freud had different reasonings for desire. Today, we often make presumptions about other people based on their perspective rather than hearing their story. We need to ask each other how and why we have these unique perspectives rather than forming preconceived notions.

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