There are many in the world who lack an understanding of the meaning of words like “inclusion, diversity, acceptance, and tolerance.” Far too many people lack the civility and maturity to understand that as uneasy as it might make one feel to refuse to accept that others disagree, much less listen to their arguments, that there is reward to be had in doing so. Not only is there reward in it, but at the root of hate and discord is an unwillingness to accept that others can be intelligent, learned, and reasonable while still disagreeing.
I hate to make too much of the incident I’m writing about, but it’s difficult to pass up. Simply, because it demonstrates so well where those who believe they are tolerant and inclusive actually refuse to accept that others can have reasoned and logical disagreement.
In my home town of Norman, Oklahoma the other day, the City Council had a meeting whereby citizens were allowed to address the Council with whatever concerns they might have. One man, Shane Dodson, addressed what he believed should be done about abortion.
Regardless of what a person believes about the subject, he was extremely respectful. He never raised his voice, never hurled an insult, never attacked a group or any individual. He simply stated what he believed should be done at the local level about abortion. In his case, I didn’t agree with everything he said, but I was very shocked that two Council members turned to face the wall throughout his address. It was shocking to see two grown people who are supposed to represent themselves and their constituents in a professional and respectful manner, act as if they were a child who refused to acknowledge another person.
After the meeting was over, local reporters were able to speak to one of the two Council members who had turned her back, Alexandra Scott. When asked about why she had done so, part of her response was, “We are a captive audience, and we don’t have to listen to hate speech. We turned our chairs to him because it actually had some sort of hateful speech towards women.” Often times, when someone does not want to listen to an opposing point of view, that person labels it as “hate speech” in order to avoid considering any view that does not subscribe to their own.
I recognize that this particular incident is a local affair, and most readers here may not have any interest in the specific incident, so if you’d like to see the video and the original news story, here is the link.
Thoughtful and respectful disagreement is not hate speech. To label it as such diminishes efforts against real hate speech. If someone states a case for a local authority to ignore a court ruling, it might be something with which many people would disagree, but it is not hate toward women. Trying to shut down positive discourse by calling it hate whenever someone dissents is a really disgusting way of saying one lacks faith in his or her own beliefs. If a person really and truly believes he or she is right, then an argument against the belief is no cause for concern.
Incivility in political discourse and a refusal to listen is much too common. In the specific case of the issue of abortion, I have never met a pro-choice person who supports the murder of innocent children, and I have never met a pro-life person who seeks domain over women’s bodies. Both sides mischaracterize one another, and it makes open and reasonable discourse on the subject very difficult. It gets ever more difficult when people refuse to even listen to thoughtful debate from an opposing point of view.
When we refuse to admit that it is entirely possible to be wrong in our beliefs and opinions, we run the risk of being wrong for the rest of our lives, while continually strengthening a disastrous world view by only listening to people who agree. It’s how things can really go terribly wrong in the world. Things like slavery and genocide come from a refusal to listen to reason from someone who disagrees. Wars are fought, lives are ruined, society stagnates, and people are dehumanized simply by refusing to listen to the beliefs of others.
Intolerance is a refusal to allow others to speak. It is the refusal that others can have opinions different from oneself. Not only should there be diversity of the way people look, from where they come, how they act, their religious beliefs, but also if society is ever to progress and improve, there must always be diversity of thought. If no one has different ideas, then there can never be change. And, if there is a refusal for open discussion, there is deep division that can eventually lead to violence and oppression.
There is no harm in hearing the opposing opinion of someone else. Nothing but good comes from it. Both parties benefit from a deeper understanding. A decent and civil society listens to opposing points of view. Turning one’s back against a deeper understanding of differing beliefs is harmful to oneself and, when practiced in large number is harmful to everyone. Society needs tolerance, and people need to understand what tolerance really means and that it includes the tolerance of opposing beliefs.