By Noa Rosenberg
(Note: This article is a follow-up to the article published in the last edition of the Forum titled Your Opinion Is Wrong by Will Slater.)
Creating a healthy environment for political and social debate has become a hotly, well debated topic this year at Latin. As Will Slater wrote about in the Forum’s previous issue, the school has been taking measures to attempt to improve the way we talk to one another when we disagree. While I second Will’s opinion on the impact of these efforts (Imagination Theater and the like), I find myself struggling with his argument that opinions cannot be treated equally.
In a perfect world, I wholeheartedly buy into it because, in this perfect world, only the “true” arguments could be backed up by facts. We, however, live in a not-so-perfect world where facts and data can be construed to fit nearly any conclusion a crackpot with a computer wants to prove. Crooked science and false studies have been conducted countless times in the name of what people have thought was “right” and “good.” With a knack for spin and a handful of iffy facts, the truth can be easily eluded or blurred. In the end, sometimes the most biased and off-base arguments are the ones that, on the surface, have the most blaring presence of facts and figures.
This becomes an even stickier situation when an opinion becomes offensive, especially when this offensiveness comes from a clear place of hate or ignorance. When personal feelings flare up, we are less coherent, more flustered. It is here that some of the sloppiest of debate work is done.
In a comment on Will Slater’s piece, Johnny Gross brought up the point that when you call another person’s opinion wrong, no matter how sure you are of your being correct, they could be thinking the exact same thing of you. It is tricky to put yourself in another person’s shoes. It is hard to tell when you are on the “right side of history.” Ms. Hennessy posed the question at the assembly of whether it is okay to simply not accept another person’s opinion as valid. This is especially relevant when opposing ideas hurt us personally. Where do we draw the line? When do our opinions become too harmful?
In my mind, what needs to be taught, above all, is respect. If you find yourself in a disagreement with someone else that is getting a bit heated or complicated, think: “What would a real, human person do in this situation?” That is a guideline I tend to live by. Would a human put people down because of things they cannot control, simply from a place of prejudice? No. Would a human negate someone else’s opinion for the sake of pride? No. Is a human also entitled to their opinions? Yes.
Tough situations are tough for a reason. They are tough because there no answer is completely correct. It’s all a matter, ironically, of opinion in the end. Will’s argument is valid in that he believes it. I, frankly, do too; I just also believed that I could expand upon it. If you believe something, then its validity is assured (if only to you). It is up to others, then, to build on that opinion and make it better, closer to truth, more human.
In the end, opinions (no matter how ridiculous some are) cannot be disproved, so I propose that we make a move to break away from the concept of opinion and toward collective understanding— where it is no longer a competition to find out who is right for our own sakes but in an effort to learn together. Diversity of thought is what makes people unique and great, but kindness does not have to be sacrificed for personal agendas. It’s almost a social contract: our individual responsibility is to try to be as human as possible with the opinions we bring to the table, while still being open to change, and it is our community’s responsibility to trust in the thought behind these opinions and help one another. As Will wrote, “At our school, we have both rights and responsibilities, freedoms and obligations. Yes, we are entitled to our opinions, but there is an unwritten duty to make those opinions substantive and constructive.”
Your opinion is right, but let’s build on it. ]]>