In defense of civil discourse

Engaging with someone that you disagree with can be infuriating, discouraging, and disheartening, but it is—above all—necessary. With American politics becoming increasingly polarized, those on opposing sides of the political spectrum have ceased to communicate. As a result, the constructive debate that our Founding Fathers once embodied has dissipated into raucous screaming matches and partisan bickering. With a divisive presidential election in full swing, civil discourse has never seemed both so necessary and absent at the same time. While congressional leaders and presidential candidates may be advocating for ignorant partisanship devoid of reason or compromise, it is imperative that students do not emulate such behavior and instead engage in thoughtful discussion and debate.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Simply telling someone to believe in what you believe is not a viable path forward; engaging them in discussion is the sole way to educate others on your point of view. Far too often, liberals and conservatives see each other as inherent enemiesthat somehow, differing political alliances mean two individuals cannot connect or agree upon anything. We all want this country to be more prosperous, equal, and free, a divergence emerges in the path to achieving these wholesome goals. Whatever one’s chosen path is, it is important that it is shared with, disagreed with, and improved upon, for a diversity of ideas makes everyone’s ideas stronger. If a liberal stays in a safe bubble, an environment devoid of discourse, they are worse off for it. The same goes for conservatives. Never encountering anyone who sees the world a different way fills one with a false sense of perfection; “If no one disagrees with my ideas, they must be right,” is an asinine way to go about life.

In our community, as in any academic community, the main purpose should be to foster an environment that is open and receptive to all ideas, not just those that the majority of students are comfortable with. Unfortunately, we have seen the opposite of this as the suppression of ideas and the filtering of ideologies have become pervasive across campuses and schools alike. Recent examples include a photographer at the University of Missouri who was shoved away from covering a student protest, and how Wesleyan University voted to defund its 150-year-old campus newspaper because it published a piece critical to the Black Lives Matter movement. Disagreeing with a critic of a peaceful organization seeking justice for a group oppressed by systematic racism is a perfectly plausible position, but slamming the door on their ability to express an opinion is irrational and detrimental to discourse within the university.

It is imperative that this suppression of differing opinions does not leach into our campus. Our community’s strength, just like our nation’s, is derived from its union, and not its disunion. Disagreement should be sought out, debate should be encouraged, but personal animosity should have no place in intellectual deliberation—it does nothing but degrade the quality of discussion.

If you find yourself walking down the hallway and hear an opinion you feel is heinous and disgusting, so contrary to your values that anger seems to be the only suitable reaction, think about what anger can really achieve. Passion is great, but far too often it is expressed in an angry and dangerous manner. Anger does nothing but further isolate one from those that possess a differing opinion. Instead, talk to that person, and don’t attack themattack their ideas. Be constructive; forcefully educate others on your position and encourage them to return fire in a factual and rational manner. A hallway filled with debate is far better than one filled with students insulating themselves from having to communicate with those that possess differing opinions.

 

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