Opinions

Why We Should Talk to People We Disagree With

Anna Lee ‘24

Chief Opinions Editor

Photo courtesy of shutterstock Democrats v.s. Republicans

As the 2021–2022 academic year comes to an end, I’ve reflected on how much writing for The Spire has impacted my college experience. I’ve learned how to manage my time, run a newspaper section, and gauge what topics are appropriate for the political climate. Above all, though, I’ve learned how to respect other perspectives — especially ones that a year ago, I would’ve denounced without a second thought. 

A few months ago, I confided in my brother about my difficulty accepting other social and political perspectives, especially ones that stemmed from conservative traditions or what I perceived to be intolerance. He gave me a few words of advice that I found particularly helpful: ultimately, regardless of whether we’re politically “left” or “right,” liberal or conservative, or religious or secular, many of our values are the same and we just have different ways of protecting those values. While I find value in protecting education by broadening the curriculum by including race and gender studies, others might find more value in cutting back on those topics for fear of indoctrination. While I think considerable police reform is required to properly protect American citizens, others see police reform as weakening the foundation of those systems of protection. Across all political perspectives, by seeing the world not as two distinct categories (“left” and “right”), but as one that is always more “in-between,” members of opposing political parties may learn to listen to each other again. 

After a very tumultuous few years, the growing partisan divide has strained relationships, alliances, and political engagement. A 2016 study from the Pew Research Center revealed not just hostile feelings between opposing political parties, but a genuine fear: “More than half of Democrats (55%) say the Republican Party makes them afraid, while 49% of Republicans say the same about the Democratic Party. Among those highly engaged in politics — those who say they vote regularly and either volunteer for or donate to campaigns — fully 70% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans say they are afraid of the other party” (Partisanship and Political Animosity in 2016). Fear, conjured up by misinformation, bias, and media manipulation from both political parties, prevents all participants from engaging in effective and civil debate. Now that the partisan divide is bigger than ever, both political parties tend to villainize or dehumanize the other and both forget that we are ultimately trying to sustain values (i.e., protection, democracy, and education) that we share.  

Especially in the digital age, with media giants utilizing biased language and emotionally charged arguments in supposedly objective reporting, it’s easy to go down a rabbit-hole of misinformation and online anonymity. With the shield of usernames and a screen, even the most civil of people in person can be absolutely vile online — especially towards people they don’t agree with. Even during my time in The Spire, I’ve had several confrontations with adults who’d rather sort out their disagreements with my articles online than in person. I challenge people to remember that a screen is the equivalent of a curtain; Someone is receiving those comments and it’s quite easy to forget that. 

In addition to online disagreements, the partisan divide is far more literal than many realize. According to an article published in the Nature Human Behavior journal by doctoral student Jacob Brown and Professor Ryan Enos, 98 percent to 99 percent of Americans live in areas segregated by partisanship (analyses from U.S. Census tract data, Rolon). Geolocation data reveals that the partisan divide presents a sort of partisan segregation: members of a certain political party tend to stay within those groups and rarely interact with members of other political parties. Even within politically split neighborhoods, Brown and Enos’ analysis reveals internal partisan segregation, whether that be through self-isolation, refusal to interact with others, or racial grouping (which often aligns with political preference). Learning to break down those barriers may strengthen tolerance and understanding across various groups. It is a lot more difficult to hate immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups when you know those people personally. 

I don’t suggest that we ought to engage in political conversations with people we disagree with so that we may be easily swayed one way or the other. In fact, I think it’s important to be skeptical and ask questions, but it’s equally helpful to keep an open mind and remain cognizant about others’ experiences and unique perspectives. Participants can also be respectful while criticizing other points of view — these are not mutually exclusive, but in recent years, it seems that it’s becoming a detrimental trend. While I think it’s important to have politically diverse conversations, I must also acknowledge that every participant must be willing to be kind and respectful in those conversations; for some people, that’s a lost cause. Similarly, I find there’s a considerable difference between valuable opinions and bigotry, differentiating the two is just as important. 

As I continue with The Spire in my next two years, I hope I can continue this same trajectory of learning and appreciation for my peers’ opinions. While I will fervently defend what I think is right and necessary in a world that gives preference to a select few groups over most others, I am always willing to sit down and have a civil conversation with someone who thinks otherwise. 

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