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I was intrigued with the Daily News editorial about conservatives on campus being afraid of speaking their opinions. Let me be clear, I am far left on near all of my views but I will defend the claim that conservatives feel like they cannot speak their political positions on campus leading to conservatives not speaking in classes. I have witnessed this myself, and I am afraid that I too was a culprit in making conservatives quiet their positions — at least an earlier version of myself. Being a supporter of the left, I think the left is the morally and rationally better political option, but not everyone thinks that. The left is more correct in their views but not necessarily the way in which we get there.

I think that conservative ideas are somewhat being silenced, rather than respectfully discussed. However, in no way is this the same degree as the biases that other groups face nor is there the same threat of violence that comes with being a person of color, status as an LGBT+ community member, non-Christian religion, etc. Though, much of the right legitimately feels that they are facing unfair odds. If the left wants to make a place where dialogue flourishes and we challenge societal problems, then we must address conservatives’ feelings about being silenced as legitimate.

The polling for the 2016 election has demonstrated that perhaps conservatives do not feel comfortable discussing their political positions — even to pollsters for they fear judgement and ostracization.

Most people, conservatives and liberals alike, can remember a time where they either held or conducted an action that they feel is now abhorrent. Often, the way we changed these positions have been through dialogue and seeing how they affect others. But part of making concessions to our conceptual framework, requires that we justly hear. What I mean is that we can listen to what someone says, but not actually hear their positions as simply positions. When person A talks about a political position we do not hold, then person B may treat person A as an irrational person.

Justly hearing is where the listener treats the speaker as a full agent and seeks to understand with a spirit of empathy and uptake to grievances. This can be hard to do on the left because when person A says “all lives matter,” this directly demonstrates to person B how person A thinks and treats people of color. Naturally, we want to distance ourselves from a person who holds fundamental positions that ignore the harmful and violent treatment of people of color in society.

This is most evidently shown in social media because it is so easy to choose what one wants to hear. Analysis from the Electome project at the MIT Media Lab, demonstrates that the right and left conduct online dialogue in two different worlds.

Based on my observations, I think the left is willing to discuss positions that are different than their own so long as it meets a threshold of left ideology. Last semester, I was in a communication class that was heavily discussion-based. I knew of a few outspoken conservatives because I swiftly rebutted their positions, but assumed the rest were liberals. Yet after the election, I was asking people one-on-one about their political affiliation and discovered that there were many more conservatives in the class who did not like aggressive debates of class — partially because of my own confrontational contributions. I think the left has been shaming conservatives. The left has been political correct, but we have failed to emotionally consider conservatives. This is not healthy nor successful at bridging the two political worlds that desperately need to be bridged.

When this happens enough, then conservative student stops feeling like they can speak fully in classes. This creates two problems. First, when students cannot contribute, then everyone in the class cannot grow. There is a loss of challenging positions when the left does not hear the right, but on the same token, when conservatives are not contributing, they are not growing and being challenged. The second problem, is that when person A is unjustly heard by person B – being shut down or called a bigot – then they are much less likely to justly hear B. The left is entrenching the right in their positions.

A way to address problem, which is distilled from Danielle Allen’s work, has three parts. First, we should talk to those in our classes, in clubs, on the bus, and around Ball State about our political positions. We must speak and listen to others justly. Talk to the quiet conservatives and through those conversations perhaps both will gain a greater understanding. Second, go to places where there are people who think differently than you. I normally would not go to a College Republicans meeting, but for the sake of democratic dialogue, I will. Cross spaces. Finally, support the newly formed Democracy and Citizenship Club, which aims to foster these kinds of discussions.

I am not saying that you need to be completely fair to those who are part of hate groups, though treating people as agents with understanding can help people disengage people from hate. These claims are easy for me because I am a straight white male, who has been advantaged in nearly all ways in society, so I do not have the same challenges. However, if the left wants to win elections, then we must change the way in which we treat others. We do not have the political majority outside of the University to simply ostracize conservatives. We must change the ways in which we have dialogue or face continued polarization and lack of compromise on all political levels. The burden of moral responsibility is on the left to foster dialogue. Something is learned from talking with people who hold positions other than our own.

Tips for Dialogue:

  • 1) When talking about political positions, do not attack. Listening to people requires that they believe you legitimately care.
  • 2) Seek understanding.
  • 3) Stick to single issues. You cannot change the world overnight.
  • 4) Show vulnerability. This lets people know you are not perfect and it builds trust.
  • 5) Make concessions. You will learn too.
  • 6) Find at least one thing — fact or position — that you can agree upon.
  • 7) Still be friends. If your words do not influence people, then through your friendship, they may make some concessions
  • 8) Support the Democracy and Citizenship Club

Further Discussion Materials

Talking to Others

https://www.ted.com/talks/robb_willer_how_to_have_better_political_conversations#t-4148

https://www.ted.com/playlists/390/how_to_turn_the_political_conv

Justly Hearing

https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo;jsessionid=32E47016A8550D29DCD43D5F7EE03CC4.dialnet01?codigo=2712724

Sincerely,

Quintin Thompson