Tonight at dinner, my friends and I were discussing how easy it is to be socially and politically liberal at Bates. Often times, I will find myself having passionate conversations about gender, the presidential campaign, and education reform. However, one thing that all of these conversations have in common is how unified and singular opinions on all of these issues are. Often times, there is no debate on the ideas we put forth. The liberal opinions that we all hold are stated as truth. If there is any disagreement, it is usually regarding the nuances of the issue rather than the issue itself. Sometimes, talking with friends about politics is about patting each other on the back for sharing the same opinion than anything else.
There is something comforting about being surrounded by people who share your world view. Working towards social and political justice can be exhausting and it is important to have a support group with whom you can share your grievances and frustrations. However, I think that by having such a one-sided dialogue, there are things that we miss. Problems are usually better solved when people work together to solve them. I often write off conservative opinions without listening to the substance of them. When we graduate and leave this cozy liberal bubble, we are going to be living and working with people who have ideologies all across the spectrum. To make any sort of change, you have to compromise. In order to compromise, you have to be willing to hear and really understand the other side’s argument. Now is the time to learn how to have conversations with people that see the world in different ways than you. Furthermore, learning how to have these sometimes uncomfortable conversations will help us become more compassionate towards people that we disagree with.
Another reason one-sided dialogue is limiting is because it does not challenge us to really think about why we hold the ideologies and values that we do. The other day, I was discussing the Maine ballot initiatives with a friend and I realized that I did not have a good explanation for my support. That is because I have not had any conversations with people who did not also support them. I want to have sound reasons for the having the ideas that I do and if I am never pushed to think about why I believe what I do, then my ideology will be nothing more than empty words.
We are doing ourselves a huge disservice by stigmatizing and silencing conservative voices at Bates. I think part of this stigma is due to the degree to which we tie people’s political and social ideologies to their character. I am often guilty of attacking the person rather than the idea. As college students, we are supposed to be learning how to be critical thinkers, but how can we do this without hearing from the other side?