A friend of mine came to visit last weekend.
Geography, work and family life mean we no longer have much time to talk, but fortunately, the cliche that we can “pick up right where we left off” aptly applies to our decade-long friendship.
We covered a lot of ground in two days, on topics that affirmed how very different we are, both in what we believe and in the lives we lead.
She regularly traverses the country for her job.
I seldom leave home. I write and care for my children.
She’s married to a woman; I’m married to a man.
She’s a devoted atheist; I’m a devout Catholic.
She’s liberal; I’m conservative.
We agree on some things, but our viewpoints on culture and politics usually diverge, which always makes for interesting, lively and occasionally heated conversation.
At the weekend’s close, I found myself remarkably grateful for her visit. Not just because she is a wonderful person, but because she put a friendly face on arguments with which I strongly disagree.
While neither of us had expectations of changing the other person’s mind, there’s tremendous value in remembering that we can and should continue to love and respect people whose views are not our own.
At the very least, we need to listen to what they have to say.
Unfortunately, that is a virtue in decline in America today.
An alarming example of its poverty was on display early this month at Middlebury College in Vermont, when a group of “protesters,” through intimidation and violence, shut down an academic presentation by a speaker whose views have been unjustly derided.
Researcher and academic Charles Murray was invited to present on his research and engage students in an open forum for ideas and discussion. Instead, he was silenced by an angry throng that later assaulted a beloved professor who was attempting to shield Murray from the menacing crowd.
The professor, a self-identified Democrat who ended up in the emergency room later that evening, called it “the saddest day of my life” in a Facebook post.
The video footage of the violence is horrifying. The mob was not merely protesting; they were ensuring that Murray’s words would be heard by no one.
What’s most disturbing, as Jean Card wrote in an op-ed in U.S. News, is that the “perpetrators didn’t look their victims in the eye,” as if refusing to acknowledge their humanity somehow made the violence acceptable.
This is the same pattern perpetuated by social media, where violent and hateful language can be mercilessly directed at “faceless” accounts. It’s the same mob mentality that drives protesters to silence lawmakers and opposing viewpoints at town hall meetings across the nation.
How easy it is to condemn, to censor and to harm another when you refuse to treat them with basic dignity. But that’s sadly the environment in which so many important national debates are taking place.
It isn’t always easy to sit down with someone whose beliefs conflict with your own or to sit quietly while an ideological opponent offers an opinion, but it’s imperative that this kind of exchange occur in a democracy.
A California congressman understands the psychology behind face-to-face discussion.
Instead of conducting public forums that have become opportunities for protesters to display their anger (and little else), Republican Rep. David Valadao now invites constituents to meet him in his office for 10-minute discussions.
Critics claim he’s trying to avoid protests and the media attention they draw.
But there’s something to his strategy. It humanizes both lawmaker and constituent, gives both an opportunity to listen and holds both to account.
As for me and my friend, we agree on very little, but we both believe in the right to be heard and the responsibility to listen.
My friend’s visit reminded me how important respecting opposing opinions is and how lacking it is in society today.