By Emilie Dunaway.
During the constitutional congress, there were many different minds and ideas coming together to create a single ruling document to stand the test of time; the founders were able to do it, but how? The great minds of the time were cautious, courteous and civil in their disputes; they listened and took the time to see from another point of view. In this day and age, it is easier than ever before to share opinions and thoughts, yet many still choose to close their ears to the opposition and strive to silence the competition.
Have you ever seen kids plug their ears and chant “Nanananana, I can’t hear you.” As children, we are taught to share and be kind, but the importance of disagreement is not always expressed. In many situations, people who are offended by speech often wish to silence the speaker. In fact, 20% of students at the University of California think it is acceptable to use violence to stifle controversial speakers. Nearly 44% of Americans believe that the Constitution doesn’t protect “hate-speech.” The American Bar Association (ABA) defines hate speech as “speech that offends, threatens or insults groups based on race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability or other traits,” but the term is usually used in an undefined manner, widely thrown around to represent speech one does not like or finds upsetting. Many do not see the value in disagreement anymore; it is usually viewed as an unpleasant, emotional experience complete with anger and arguing. Disagreements should be a transaction of ideas that allow each party to think and express for himself and to learn.
Additionally, the First Amendment to the Constitution protects the freedom of speech and expression in all manners excluding obscenities, fighting words, libel, child pornography, perjury and blackmail, true threats and incitement to imminent lawless action. In society, disagreements are imperative to the learning and the development of new ideas. Historically, censored speech imposed by the government is a sign of tyranny and leads to many other oppressions. Take Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia for examples; their dictators put laws on what could be said and read, and on how religion and ideas could be expressed. Those regimes ended up killing millions, but these days the roles are reversed. Everybody is protected by the freedom of speech, yet many individuals and non-government corporations strive to stifle and harm those of differing opinions. At Middlebury College, Allison Stanger was harassed as she left campus after a speech and ended up in the hospital with a neck injury. Entertainment platforms such as Facebook and YouTube are censoring people who share controversial, but harmless opinions such as Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist, and Hunter Avallone, conservative YouTube personality. And all of this just because of differing opinions.
Disagreement and discussion are the lifeblood of America. Our entire society is based on the exchange of new ideas and the cooperation of differing sides. When somebody creates a stance on an issue of which he or she has an opinion and argues that issue, they must use facts, not pure emotion, otherwise the discussion becomes personal and both parties are unresponsive. Journalist Bret Stephens says, “…the purpose of opinion isn’t to depart from facts but to use them as a bridge to a larger idea called ‘truth.'” Once opinion and fact have met to become truth, with nuanced understanding people are able to disagree properly. As far as we have come from the Continental Congress, despite the changing times and issues, it would continue to behoove the American people to learn how to disagree.