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We have more in common than we think

| Thursday, April 27, 2017

Let’s be honest, our political discourse is pretty divided these days. Speakers on campus bring immediate controversy, the media and our president are at odds, the government is on the brink of shutdown again and members of political parties cannot compromise. How we speak about politics is often focused on our divisions rather than our commonalities. Identity politics is partly responsible for this; we now picture the Republicans as racist white working-class and the Democrats as social and cultural city-dwelling elites.

Blanket labeling has also played a role in this. Someone who doesn’t support an unobstructed path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is automatically a racist, and someone who doesn’t support a women’s full right to get an abortion is automatically a misogynist. The rural whites are assumed to know nothing about policy or government, and the urbanites are assumed to care mostly about bathroom choice. Now maybe you don’t agree with these labels, but that is precisely the point. We make generalizations about whole groups of people, and most of them are incorrect. But we do have differences, right? Isn’t that why these divisions arise?

Well, yes, we are different. But that shouldn’t be the focus of the discourse. It is not productive at the start of a project to assume your peers are incompetent because they live in different dorms than you do, just as when Congress crafts a bill it’s unproductive to assume the other party dislikes all your ideas and is unwilling to compromise. Because even the perception of difference can create a rift between groups, whether among your friends, your classmates, your school or your nation. And rifts are unproductive.

If we engage with each other, we might instead find that perceived divisions do not actually exist. If we approach each other with respect and openness (and both sides are guilty of not doing this), we might find that we have more in common than we thought. But if we shut ourselves off from differing opinions or discourse in general, we will continue to focus on the differences.

Rather than immediately protesting any speaker who comes to campus based on their advertised position, maybe it would be more productive to listen to him or her and realize that you agree with small portions of what he or she has to say. We saw this two weeks ago at the gun control debate held by BridgeND. By the end, both the gun control advocate and gun control opponent agreed that the safety and health of American society was important, and even agreed on certain regulations and policies. Who knew two political opponents could say “I agree” to each other? Maybe you would agree with Charles Murray that our culture is becoming more divided. Or maybe you would agree with Matt Walsh that Catholics should stick to their values. Or maybe you would agree with Wendy Davis that late-term abortions should not be allowed. Or maybe you would agree with Betty and Elena on some aspects of affirmative action.

Engaging our views, even if they differ, is the best way to recognize that often we all have the same goals in mind, or even that we agree on some issues. And if you don’t agree, great, then you have undertaken a fruitful exercise to refine your own views. Refusing to hear opinions or engage in conversation helps no one. It reinforces our differences, not our commonalities. It digs the rift deeper, so neither side even has the opportunity to understand the other. 

Violence does not help, either. Around the country, we have seen campus protests turn violent and destructive on a number of occasions this year. Not only is this unnecessarily dangerous, but it is odd that students wishing to silence speakers end up giving them a larger platform on the national news. Campuses, even recently, prided themselves as being capable to receive any discourse peacefully, but that does not seem to be the case nowadays. Speakers are derided with labels, and critics claim that they will never be able to understand why someone would think as the speaker does.

Unfortunately, the world will not work that way. And not that “the world will never change from the mean, harmful place it can be,” but instead that the world requires mutual understanding and civil discourse to ensure peace and prosperity for all. To refuse to engage with others’ views is ultimately to reject that future for our world. But to listen to the views of others, to be educated, to read articles (not just the headline, but all the way through) and to focus on the commonalities is how we will work through any problem which we now face.

There is a lot we can all agree on, if you think about it. We would agree that violence, among warring states or between protesters and speakers, is never the final solution. We would agree that equal opportunities among people, for the LGBTQ community and for disillusioned coal workers, are important. We would agree that all humans, those yet unborn and those who are soon to deliver, demand respect and autonomy. These are just some starting points. If we look at these commonalities, we would also agree that everyone, Republicans and Democrats, urbanites and rural workers, have some things in common. And the sooner we focus on that, the sooner we can be productive.

Ben Robinson is a junior Neuroscience major from Keenan Hall and an officer of bridgeND. He is open to discussion and can be contact at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About BridgeND

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at [email protected] or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

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