Disagree Without Being Disagreeable

  • Head's Note
Tobin Bechtel

No matter our political outlook or cultural beliefs, it is critical in a democratic society to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. It is imperative that we are open-minded and able to listen without rancour and speak with passion without fear of violence. This, to me, is what makes the emphasis on polarization by media, by political parties, and many politicians particularly worrying - especially that some members of our society are using force to create fear and suppress the freedoms embedded in our constitution.

We need to be mindful of how we interact with each other, that we extend mutual respect. In short, we need to expect and model civil discourse. This concept originates from Cicero (societas civilus) - he emphasized that citizens need to maintain standards of respect as they debated what was best for everyone in their city / society. This goes well beyond being polite - it expects everyone to engage in discourse that supports rather than undermines societal good. I agree with a USC professor who proclaims, “this demands that citizens listen respectfully to the claims made by others. Name-calling, threats, and bullying behaviors do not meet the demands of effective deliberation.” 

Discourse should be held accountable to how much it contributes to the greater good. Democratic societies must be societies where arguments are tolerated and encouraged, and this is not always easy. To engage in a healthy political argument is to acknowledge the possibility that one's own arguments could be falsified or proven wrong.

At Sage Ridge, we should all feel safe to voice and explain our ideas and beliefs in an arena of civil discourse. Effective citzenship in a democracy relies on all of us using reason for the good of all and challenging those that resort to vehemence or violence to create fear.

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