Open exchange of ideas

A friend of mine recently posted a political opinion on her Facebook page, but only after a preamble to all the people she felt she might offend in doing so. The opinion itself was fairly straight-forward: “I intend to vote this way on this issue.” It was nearly anticlimactic after the build-up she gave it, especially since I’ve been following this friend’s Facebook feed and blog. Though I don’t recall if she ever expressed this view so openly before, it came as no surprise.

The sad thing, I felt, was that the preamble was even necessary. It wasn’t for me, but I can easily imagine how so many others needed to be reminded that it was her opinion, and she is entitled to it, and that if people felt the need to be offended they could take it elsewhere. The fact that someone can’t render an opinion without running the risk of upsetting someone is not very complimentary of humanity in general.

Granted, I’m not sure there has ever been a “Golden Age” when it was perfectly safe to give your opinion. But I do think we can do better than we do. Any time a person is afraid to render an opinion or an idea because it might go against the grain that person has been essentially silenced. Have we become so afraid of ideas that we need to silence them?

Yes, ideas can be dangerous. Much good can come from them, as well. Silencing ideas does not make them less dangerous or beneficial. It doesn’t destroy them. It merely means that those ideas will be developed in secret, among like-minded people, where it may achieve popularity, but it won’t benefit from the development that comes from the open and respectful discussion of ideas. Silencing ideas merely means cutting them off from viewpoints that might have benefitted everyone.

Silencing ideas also encourages those who still champion them to view those silencing them as an enemy to be defeated or side-stepped. They won’t try any less to see their ideas implemented, but they will do everything in their power to exclude others from the process, to see their idea forced on those they felt silenced by.

Of course there are those who silence themselves, fearing to expose their ideas to the harsh light of reality. Any idea that can’t withstand open discussion isn’t worth much as an idea. But more often not the problem is that people simply do not feel safe presenting their ideas for scrutiny.

I obviously wish it were otherwise. I wish we could all be calm, rational, and open. I wish we could learn to offer differing views with a desire to create something better together rather from a desire to be correct. I wish we could accept alternate viewpoints as an opportunity to learn rather than a threat to avoid.

It’s a pipe dream, I know. We have a hard enough time encountering opposite viewpoints without immediately assuming that person is an idiot out to destroy the world. Even getting past that particular difficulty would be significant progress.

But I look back on some of the best conversations I’ve had in my life, and often they are ones where someone else and I disagreed respectfully and were able to discuss our viewpoints with little fear. I may not have changed my mind (though I’m quite certain my position shifted), but I gained a greater appreciation for the other point of view. And my respect for that person increased.

Respect is in far too short of supply these days.

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