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Observer Editorial: Step away from the monologue

| Friday, March 31, 2017

The 2016 presidential election affected this country in profound ways. Some of these effects will become evident in time, but many have already manifested themselves. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, it is hard to deny that polarization defines a large portion of today’s political discourse.

The election, however, is not the sole cause of this increased polarization. Vitriolic political pundits on both sides of the spectrum have risen in popularity, and there is no shortage of places — whether it be on cable television or social media — for citizens to go and find conversation in the form of a monologue.

Merely pointing out that there is a problem, however, does little to help solve it. Days after the presidential election, this Editorial Board penned a letter calling for increased dialogue between those who voted for Trump and those who opposed him. And this week and the next, members of our campus communities had and will have the chance to do just that — engage more fully in political conversations — as a number of speakers come to campus and share their perspectives and ideas.

The 43rd treasurer of the United States and “the woman behind the new $20 bill,” Rosie Rios, spoke Monday at a lecture sponsored by student government, the Office of the President and the Gender Studies Program. Conservative writer Charles Murray spoke at a Tocqueville Program lecture Tuesday. On Thursday, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro spoke at an event sponsored by College Republicans. Friday, the Potenziani Program in Constitutional Studies and the Federalist Society will host a debate between University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein and ACLU administrator Matthew Coles over anti-discrimination laws. Additionally, the Student Coalition for Immigration Advocacy will host Migrant Monologues on Friday evening, and Blaze commentator, Matt Walsh, will visit campus next Tuesday.

Taking the time to hear these speakers, and others that come to the University throughout the year, is especially worthwhile because they can offer the information necessary to spark productive dialogue. But that’s not to say attending these events is the only way to effectively converse with the other side. For example, just as those attending Murray’s lecture Tuesday engaged in political discourse, the University’s members who protested outside McKenna Hall did so as well. If you have educated yourself about a certain speaker or cause, furthering dialogue via peaceful protests is yet another form of valid political conversation. Informed critiques — critiques supported by, for example, reading Murray’s book and identifying which specific points lack scientific merit — can also foster fruitful discussion. It does not matter if you agree or disagree. It does not matter whether that discussion takes place in the lecture hall or standing in solidarity outside of it. What does matter, however, is that this dialogue is grounded in a thorough understanding of your own beliefs. Only then can informed citizens dispel misconceptions that, if promulgated, may only contribute to an atmosphere of divisiveness.

Hasty generalizations do not deserve a place in this country’s political discourse, as they discourage people from conducting their own research and from seizing the opportunity to develop their own beliefs. Discrediting Ben Shapiro or Matt Walsh just because of their association with The Blaze or their political affiliations is not productive to the larger aims at hand. If you consider yourself a liberal who has strong views about free speech or religion, go hear Shapiro or Walsh speak.

This discourse can take place outside of the academic setting as well. If you are someone who voted in favor of Trump for his immigration policies, take advantage of the opportunity to hear the perspectives of an immigrant and go to the Migrant Monologues on Friday. Participate in the Muslim Student Association’s sponsored events taking place on campus this week — such as World Hijab Day and a tour of a local mosque — as a part of the world’s Islam Awareness Week. Although not strictly academic in nature, these events serve the same purpose: offering us all the opportunity to learn about and better understand one another, strengthening the discourse that follows.

It is important to educate yourself on what others believe and to dissuade yourself from the fallacy that all people on the opposite end of the spectrum think in the same way or believe the same things. When confronting those with opinions differing from our own, we are forced to conduct internal reviews of our own beliefs and deconstruct, analyze and strengthen our own views. This confrontation does not require you to change your views; it only asks that you engage with them. This manner of honest, intellectual engagement gives us unique reasons for having those beliefs, beyond what friends, family or outsiders think. This information will critically inform how we function as active citizens in our own societies.

Simply telling a person with different views he or she is wrong will never suffice. The strength, unity and longevity of this nation depend on people of differing beliefs being able to work out those differences in a constructive manner. And the first step toward accomplishing that goal is to gain a firm understanding of where the other side comes from.

Thorough education may temporarily cost you comfort, as you will be forced to confront new perspectives and grapple with ideas that may seem illegitimate or even outrageous. The benefits of momentarily sacrificing your relaxed, comfortable state, however, far outweigh that cost, as enhanced knowledge and understanding often leads to an increased sense of compassion and empathy. Fostering unity and engaging in respectful political dialogue are not feasible goals if the people who claim to strive for them consistently limit their worldviews and refuse to step outside their comfort zones.

However you choose to do so, giving others’ perspectives full consideration forms a critical step in furthering conversation around hot-button contemporary issues. Writing off the opposition as mistaken or monolithic is tempting, but it ultimately is not productive if progress is the goal.

So take the chance to step away from the monologue. Let’s restart the conversation.

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