American society is at a breaking point. In our living rooms, schools and streets, disagreement rears its ugly head, dividing Americans into polarized factions. But it is not disagreement that has created such a deep and seemingly irreparable rift in society. It’s how we use it.
Throughout human history, ideological clashes have been the one constant. From Marx versus Smith to Jefferson versus Hamilton, disagreement has remained a fundamental part of our society.
We should be encouraged to question the consensus viewpoint, not told to accept things the way they are. Disagreement represents the right to free thought and individual liberty. It vaults us forward from anger to progress. It is essential.
Recently, however, things have changed for the worse. In the rapidly moving news cycle, many choose to hear only what they want to hear, speak only to whom they want to speak and interact only with who they want to interact. In the echo-chambers of social media, school campuses and partisan cities, views grow more extreme.
Many no longer argue with the goal of consensus in mind. They block out the opposition’s point and, when they are done, retreat to the comfort of their own political groups claiming to have “destroyed” or “wrecked” the other side.
No where is this more prevalent than on school campuses. It is appalling to me when I turn on the TV and see students protesting a speaker’s presence.
How can one protest someone else’s right to express an opinion? I have always admired Voltaire’s principle, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” If someone disagrees with another, then they should productively argue their points with each other. But to say that someone else should not be allowed to express their opinion is not only morally reprehensible but also destructive.
Protests should be about arguments and beliefs and not about people.
If progress is not the goal of disagreement, then what is? It is time to reject this harmful culture and reevaluate why we disagree. Changes can happen at small levels. When arguing about a viewpoint at the dinner table with family or friends, argue emphatically. But when you are finished, sit back down and listen to the other side with as much attentiveness as you would want them to listen to yours. Treat their argument as your own, following along with the reasoning and trying to understand their point.
Midterms are over and come Jan. 3, there will be a plethora of new opinions, new controversies and even more partisanship than we see today. Instead of seeing it as another two years of stagnation and inaction, 2019 should be the year things change. This time we should look inward and identify what our goals as a society are. Let’s reflect on the true point of disagreement.
Let’s argue again.