Embrace the Gift of Disagreement

Yesterday, CNN posted an article called the “War on Campus: The Escalating Battle over College Free Speech.” It highlights a number of recent occasions from Auburn University to  Middlebury College where protests against conservative speakers have turned violent.

One of my favorite quotes, and one I’ve especially had to remind myself of often during the last few months, is from Evelyn Beatrice Hall (often attributed to Voltaire): “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

There is a reason freedom of speech is our very first amendment in the United States. There is no progress without collective learning or the sharing of ideas and thoughts.

As kids, we all had crazy notions of the world and how it worked. For quite a while I thought all drains went directly into the ocean (even though I lived nowhere near the sea!). Now imagine if the true information had been completely withheld from me. I made up my own ideas of how things worked based on the little bits of information I had—but I needed to be exposed to additional thoughts and information to really begin understanding the systems at play.

In a sense, we are all still children. We are all still learning. And we should embrace the ability to be exposed to thoughts and knowledge outside of our own world view.

Listening to people you disagree with is a gift. It not only challenges your own assumptions, but it also gives you insights into how “the other side” thinks about the same topic.

Unlike my drain example above, many topics dominating the headlines are not so easily figured out. Silencing those you disagree with won’t stop their thoughts. And, especially in the case of public figures, it’s quite likely they have supporters who agree with them. By refusing to acknowledge and listen to them, you are doing yourself a severe disservice, as you’ll never be able to have a productive conversation with someone of the opposing viewpoint (and therefore, you’ll find it much harder to actually find common ground and work toward a solution).

Disagree with someone—it’s OK, healthy, and important. But listen to them. You owe it to yourself, and your cause.

 

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