I have a fear for our future. (Okay, I have a lot of fears for our nation, but this is the one looming biggest in my mind.) I fear that we have forgotten the beautiful art of debate.
There is no debate anymore. There is a shouting, ever louder, of our own opinion and position. The listening is gone. The thoughtful exchange. And most concerning of all, the willingness to be influenced and changed by new knowledge, persuasive interaction and facts. Yes, facts.
I think this loss has been striking me so deeply since the election that it awes me that I didn’t see it before. The other day I commented to my husband that I am happy to talk with people with whom I have a differing opinion. I am not, however, willing to talk with people who choose to be “willfully ignorant.” I define that as refusal to even consider that there may be facts or information that one isn’t aware of. It is the gut instinct opinion on a topic with no effort to research or learn.
Now the only goal seems to be to have “my side win,” even if it flies in face of logic. Even if it brings harm.
So what can we do? I think we can do a few things.
1) We can remind ourselves to be willing to listen. Ask someone with a differing opinion to calmly explain where they are coming from. Maybe you will find something that changes your perspective, even slightly. Or maybe you will convince yourself that they are utterly wrong. That might be okay too (especially in post-fact America.) But at least try to listen.
2) We can, of course, READ. Read anything and everything. You are most prepared to refine your position and then defend your side when you are truly educated. And share what you are reading with friends. Encourage discussion and even respectful dissent.
3) Finally, don’t overlook the future. Help your kids learn to evaluate facts, to consider their beliefs, to be willing to take positions on subjects and to sometimes change their position as they learn more. Teach them that compassion, kindness and respect are valid concerns and they all need to be part of these discussions.
Share and talk and debate. Bring knowledge to the world.
As I was preparing this post I saw this writers’ gathering posted called Greater Boston Writers Resist. There are similar events in 50 cities across the country. There will be writers workshops and talks to celebrate free expression, civil rights and democracy. What better way to start your year and to take action than to be with other creative spirits, using our passion for writing to better understand one another.