When I open Facebook each day, I scroll through hundreds of pictures of friends, sports statistics, and birthday wishes, among other things. But in between these harmless posts, articles about breaking political news often flood my screen, offered to me by a panoply of news sources, each one pushing its own agenda.
Though the integrity of online news sources has become increasingly dubious over the past few years, I am always intrigued by the kinds of comments I see on their Facebook posts. The commenters often clearly favor one side of the argument to the other and attempt to shut down dissenters, making harsh generalizations about them, or posting disparaging rejoinders in all caps.
It remains true that many popular sites on the Internet have somewhat of a reputation for unsavory commentary, but I believe the ways in which we interact with each other over these platforms have become indicative of how we perceive and treat each other in real life. When faced with viewpoints that differ from our own, we are often quick to judge them, resorting to childish name-calling and convincing ourselves that not only our counterparts’ arguments, but also the people behind them, are inferior. I admit that I have perpetrated such actions in the past, and it is because of this that I have begun to notice similar behavior becoming increasingly common in the conversations I hear around me.
These arguments are frustrating to witness because, beyond the fact that engaging with others in this way is disrespectful, more practically, it is no way to win an argument. A person cannot hope to communicate their ideas to another person, let alone convince them that their ideas are correct, by immediately setting a tone of animosity or making another person feel somehow less valued or heard in a discussion. With politics especially, it is easy to alienate others the moment you begin debating, and the large majority of supporters of both the Democratic and Republican parties have, in one way or another, been guilty of this kind of attitude.
It is true that angry reactions and outbursts feel good to express. As humans, we are quick to react emotionally to comments we feel are unjust or that directly attack us. In fact, to feel passionately about politics is effective to begin meaningful dialogues. While I would never aim to invalidate another’s feelings or suggest that their rage is somehow unwarranted, I truly believe that political discussions are always more effective when people are willing to have measured and respectful dialogues.
More than ever, we as students and citizens need to recognize the importance of respect in political conversations and learn to think before we speak. In this past election, we witnessed firsthand how divided America has become over various issues, such as international affairs, immigration, or health care. Moreover, it has become exceedingly evident that views often expressed by popular news sources and celebrities do not reflect a large portion of the American people’s views. To react to this phenomenon by telling ourselves that opponents of these news outlets are somehow less educated or bigoted is exactly part of the reason why the election ended in such a surprise.
In the end, it’s about taking the high road and realizing what your end objective is in a debate: to convince others to agree with you. If you treat others with respect, you may find much more success in your debates, and you might learn something new about the person to whom you are speaking, or even yourself.