Zhu: The Modern Discussion

We need to be more open-minded when it comes to different opinions.

by Michael Zhu | 9/29/16 12:30am

Imagine this scenario: one Sunday afternoon, two friends are in the Collis Center discussing the controversial issue of police brutality towards African Americans. One student thinks that the entire police system needs to be revamped, while the other thinks that the problem is exaggerated by the media and that there are larger, more intrinsic issues at hand. When the latter states the point that black-on-black violence takes more lives than police brutality, the former is shocked. How dare the friend state such a fact! Suddenly, the first student becomes offended, targeted but most importantly indignant, not only because that student is uncomfortable with the opposing opinion, but also because that student possesses a different view.

It seems so often these days that issues as sensitive as race relations and as controversial as police brutality and political correctness are avoided because of how polemical opinions have become. So many of us possess the unshakeable belief that our opinions are the only ones that are right; when we face different opinions, we refuse to even entertain the fact that we may be wrong. It’s the modern discussion: a close-minded, dangerously unthoughtful and fundamentally useless clash of unbending words and views. We need to be more open-minded when it comes to discussing contrasting opinions, more gracious when our views are disproved and less prone to being offended.

In our society, there’s this great veil of self-enforced censorship.

A lot of times, people cannot say what they truly think because it may be viewed as inherently offensive or otherwise wrong. We are afraid of facing problems or having contrarian opinions because anything we do can be seen as ignorant or perhaps even immoral. Is there no space for students to be a little obnoxious, provocative or even a little bit offensive? It seems like we’re moving closer and closer to a society of censure — to a society of quelling opposing opinions, contrasting views and conflicting beliefs.

I have often been unable to express my opinion, especially if it’s unpopular, because I’m afraid of the backlash. I’m afraid that by expressing my beliefs, I’ll be labeled a bad person, an unintelligent student, an uncaring individual. And because of that, I restrain myself, awkwardly nodding my head in false agreement, developing fabricated points when people look for my affirmation, forcing myself to lie to my intuition.

By constantly getting offended by any mention of an opposing opinion, we as members of society hinder the progress we would make if we could candidly discuss issues. We let our pure emotion blind us from the core of the issue, from the hidden truths. By constantly looking for people we agree with, we limit our exposure to different perspectives. By being placed in a comfortable setting where there’s no diversity of thought, we hold the lofty belief that we’re always right and everybody else is always wrong.

In a perfect American society, people should be able to discuss issues without being shunned if they disagree. We should embrace differing opinions, welcome them and respect them, because they are the basis for a free and just society. And if we’re persuaded the other way, we should be humble and almost thankful rather than hurt or spiteful.

I’m not advocating political incorrectness, and I’m definitely not asking for offensive words intended to do harm. Every honest, productive discussion is grounded in some form of respect, for both the opposing view and the person with whom you disagree. It’s definitely possible to speak candidly about an issue while respecting the person you’re debating. You don’t need to become a cold, unemotional speaker during discussions, but it’s important to recognize that allowing yourself to be offended too easily does more harm than good.

Back when our country was formed, our founders made an important distinction between private and public matters. There was a crucial difference between being attacked over public policy and being attacked personally, and they recognized that the only reason why they should be offended was if someone attacked them personally. There was no point in getting offended over matters of substance. It was unproductive and, honestly, useless.

Perhaps we should adopt this mode of thinking. Perhaps progress will come easier then.

Now imagine this scenario: two friends are in Collis discussing the controversial issue of police brutality towards African Americans on a Sunday afternoon. One student thinks that the entire police system needs to be changed, while the other thinks that there are more important issues at hand. When the second student states the point that black-on-black violence takes more lives than police brutality, the first is intrigued. Perhaps he was wrong. Maybe there is more to explore.

Wouldn’t that be the ideal discussion?