It doesn’t take much effort to notice that we live in divisive times. With politicians foaming at the mouth to pit people against each other and with new hot-button issues forming nearly every day, these are the days of sharply contrasting differences. Everyone seems to have an opinion on everything – and thanks to social media, they can easily find someone with a differing opinion. In short, there now seems to be much more that divides us than there is that unites us.
I am not nearly naive enough to believe that we can suddenly start agreeing with each other on society’s most divisive issues. In fact, I believe that difference of opinion and competition between ideas is actually a good thing – if we handle them the right way. But much of what we see in the form of public discourse is not what I consider the right way. There is certainly no shortage of passion, but there is a clear lack of respect.
If we are going to maintain a safe and civil society (something we all want), we must begin showing respect to those with whom we disagree. Name-calling and mocking are not signs of civility. They are signs of disrespect and desperation. Not only do they create an atmosphere of hostility, they also undermine our message and our legitimacy as messengers.
Perhaps flippant disrespect is so rampant in public discourse because it is infinitely easier than reasonable persuasion. It takes far less effort and skill to call someone a bad name via Facebook or Twitter than it does to lay out a detailed and convincing ideology that represents one’s personal thoughts and beliefs. It might be more challenging, but I strongly believe that we are all better off if each of us takes the time to think about what we want to say in public forums before we say it.
The key to a positive and productive society is respectful and thoughtful discussion and yes, disagreement, on the important issues that affect us all. I know I can be more graceful in how I respond to those with whom I strongly disagree. What do you think? Do you have any suggestions as to how we can promote a more respectful society when there are so many opposing views held by so many people?