Have you ever sat behind any type of screen and formed a very strong opinion on something you read, heard, or watched? The subject of your opinion can be on anything. Politics, sports, pop culture, food; literally anything.
Of course you’ve done this. We’ve all done this.
I’ve used a screen as my initial example here because that’s how most of society retrieves its information in this age. But these sorts of hastily-developed opinions are obviously not limited to these forms of technology. They can also occur from books, magazines, newspapers, radios, and whatever other secondary medium a person can gain information from.
But, you will notice, that I have not included a personal touch when it comes to forming our opinions on things. Face to face contact, personal experience and encounters; actually forming your opinion due to the real life as opposed to it being formed while hiding behind that secondary source and having that be the be all end all when it comes to having a set opinion on a majority of issues in our day.
So how often is your opinion formed and then settled without the guidance of real life experience?
Unfortunately, I believe the answer to that question – for all of us – is way too often.
It is safe to say, though, that many of the things that cause us to engage in this hasty opinion-making will cause little or no harm to ourselves or society. If you’re watching a TV show that is displaying someone eating a plateful of cow brains and you formulate the opinion that cow brains look disgusting and therefore must taste disgusting, you’re not causing a lot of harm despite the fact being you don’t actually know how they taste.
If you watch an NBA game and opine that Lebron James is not very good at basketball, you’re not bringing any kind of legitimate pain into this world. Although, pretty much anyone who maintains even a less than average amount of basketball knowledge would disagree with you.
Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple and harmless as those examples would indicate. Take the raging gun debate that has become a constant in the United States. The debate now has liberals referring to the NRA as a terrorist organization. Regardless of whether it is said tongue-in-cheek or seriously, I believe this is an irresponsible action taken by people who may not know as much about guns or this particular organization as maybe they should, if they’re going to be making such a claim.
How many people on the political left who are actively demonizing many of the gun owners in our country do you think have actually gone to great lengths of doing their own homework on gun rights and why they exist? How many do you think have attempted to have a decent and respectful conversation with a responsible gun owner?
I would dare say that not very many have.
Before making outrageous claims about something or someone, maybe one should do more to understand the subject at hand. This step isn’t necessarily one I believe needs to be made, but how many do you think have actually shot a gun themselves? Again, I would think very few.
This is not to say that every person who is anti-gun, and who would take these kinds of initiatives, would then come over to the the pro-gun side of the argument. But I do believe that it would at least bring about some new perspectives they previously never considered and maybe tone down some of the hateful rhetoric that has surrounded the issue.
There are examples we can use for those on the political right as well.
The recent debates surrounding the country’s national anthem and flag are one of them. The NFL players who kneeled during the national anthem have also been demonized in much the same way gun owners are by those on the left. Many on the right have turned to hurling personal insults towards those who kneeled and repeatedly say that the protestors should leave the country.
What can be done on a personal level to help tone down this same level of hatred?
It’s becoming repetitive, but seek out those who are or who have been impacted the most by what is being protested. Instead of displaying hatred toward those who I believe are exercising their First Amendment rights, why not sit down with a person of color who has actually experienced some level of police brutality and attempt to have a respectful conversation with them? See it from their perspective and not from the viewpoint you get from sitting on the couch anxiously waiting for the first slew of NFL games to begin.
Again, this will not always lead to complete agreement on the issue and that doesn’t always need to be the case. The United States could use some practice on respectfully agreeing to disagree. It’s a good practice for both the micro and macro levels; it’s good for our soul and good for the country’s soul. And it’s good deal more constructive than referring to someone you disagree with as a terrorist or an ignoramus.
As far as libertarians go, I firmly believe that when compared to the other sides of the political spectrum, we do a much better job of not coming to these hasty conclusions and opinions on important issues without a proper level of personal exposure and doing our own homework. In short, libertarians advocate for people to be able to live their lives as they see fit, so long as they don’t aggress upon others being able to live their lives in the same fashion. But, we’re far from perfect, and should strive to do even better at this as a movement as well as in our own personal lives.
So, when tempted to come to a hastily-concluded opinion when confronted with an issue you don’t know much about, go out and do your own homework. Seek out and have conversations with people about issues you disagree on. And if you’re able to come away from those conversations closer to agreement than what you were when you went into them, that’s great, and for our movement’s sake, I hope that agreement is closer to the libertarian side of the issue.
But if you’re not able to find much common ground over the course of the conversation, then respectfully agree to disagree and move on without feeling the need to respond with contempt.
* Mark Metz lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has worked at a residential home for 7-12 year old behaviorally challenged boys for four years. He is a former conservative who has converted to libertarianism, and he is now looking to advance the ideas of liberty and freedom.