I grew up in a pretty sheltered environment. Most of the people I encountered shared the same views as me. Because of this, I was never challenged, or asked to defend my views until this year, when I ventured out into the real world. Coming from a Christian, conservative family, I define myself as a conservative and a Christian. Similarly, growing up, I attend a Christian, conservative school. This does not mean, however, that all the students are Christians or conservatives. In my English class this year, I have met and gotten to know two deep-thinking, bright girls who are more liberal leaning in terms of political views. When I discovered we didn’t see eye to eye on everything, I was taken aback.
Our differing opinions became even more evident as the class discussed Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and several essays on race, gender, and socio-economics. Even though I disagreed with some of their opinions, I was thankful that we could enjoy a polite, civilized, albeit heated, discussion. At times, I thought their views were a bit radical; I’m sure they found mine too old-fashioned. But, despite our differing views, we stayed friendly and respectful. We had to agree to disagree.
This year, toward the beginning of my semester in debate class, my teacher pointed out something that I hadn’t thought of before: the purpose of debate is not necessarily to win the other side over, but to communicate our ideas effectively. In communicating effectively, we can hope to win the other side over to our side. Sadly, all too often we debate with the intention of convincing the other side we are right and they are wrong, so much so that we come across as too harsh, we lose our opposition, and we do not communicate effectively. So, as conservatives, and Americans as a whole, we need to approach debating topics from a new mindset of educating the other side of our beliefs and ideas. By doing so, we present ourselves as friendlier and more open. The other side may be more receptive to what we have to say. Here are three things to keep in mind next time you find someone with whom you disagree:
Oftentimes, we conservatives get labeled as “harsh,” “closeminded,” and “narrow.” In response, we call the left the same things. Instead of name-calling and jumping to conclusions, we should just sit back and listen. When we debate with the mindset of effective communication, we are less concerned with having the last say and genuinely interested in learning about the other side. Let’s try to get to know the ideas and beliefs of those across the aisle. We may all be surprised by what we learn.
Sometimes, our ideas are shaped by those with whom we disagree. We can always learn more about our ideas, and expand on them by simply hearing what the other side has to say. My own beliefs on certain controversies have been re-shaped by the girls in my class with whom I disagree. By listening, I came to learn more about their ideas. I even realized that some of their ideas aren’t quite as crazy as I had originally thought.
The beautiful thing about America is freedom of speech. Freedom of speech means we can say what we want, but we also have to hear things we don’t always want to hear. Despite our differences, we should love our fellow Americans. Loving others doesn’t mean we need to agree on everything and approve of everything, but it does mean we should treat each other with dignity and respect.