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Saturday, February 09, 2013

Not just wrong, but evil

Awtry: When did we lose the ability to argue like human beings? | The Coloradoan |

Agreement feels good, right? It sets our brain at ease. It spares us the nastiness of cognitive dissonance — that uncomfortable feeling you get when your ideas don’t gel into a harmonious package.

It’s never been easier to find complete sanctuaries of agreement. We find neighborhoods where people look like us. We tune in to television channels that don’t challenge our notions, but confirm them. And we seek out websites that “prove” the things we believe are fact.

We have chosen to live in these esteem-building, fortified bubbles of self-confidence and conviction. Which is why, when someone enters our bubble with a conflicting idea, it stands out louder than it ever used to.

Alarmingly, the trend of late is to distance one’s self from that person. Defriend them on Facebook. Stop attending their book club. Take a different route through the office.

On social media, I often see people say things like, “I can’t stand to read any more posts from (position I disagree with). I’m cleaning out my friends list.”

My concern: Where does this lead? What happens when you extrapolate this self-selection trend over decades?

Look at how quickly we’ve come to deem “the other side” not just wrong, but evil. What happens to an entire generation not just raised on absolutism, but carrying a flag of assured righteousness?

The result is a nation of people who view the other side as something less than human, clearly not capable of “seeing the truth.” It’s happened elsewhere around the world — we can’t let it happen here.

I’m not suggesting we be a wishy-washy nation of milquetoasts. You don’t have to avoid conflict. Hold your convictions close and be proud of them. But don’t unabashedly shout down someone whose ideas run counter to your view, and don’t be afraid to engage them in discourse.

The ability to listen and discuss doesn’t make you weak. It makes you open-minded.

In his inauguration speech in 1801, Thomas Jefferson (easily one of my favorite historical thinkers) said, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle.”

Diversity of thought wasn’t a separator among America’s founders; it was a fiery uniter — a sometimes-messy forge from which cross-bred and hearty ideas would emerge.

See past the factions, and you’ll see people of principle on all sides. Don’t fall into the trap of being told “those who disagree are the enemy.” Those who disagree are also your neighbors and your co-workers and people who believe that our neighborhood, our town and our nation can be great.

Don’t be afraid to let someone into your life (or Facebook feed) because their beliefs expose you to others’ ideas. And if you do engage, make sure the discussion is hearty and stays just this side of becoming heated.
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