It's disheartening that so many people have defaulted to my-way-or-else entrenchment in a world that desperately needs people to work together, look at issues from different angles and problem solve.
We are losing our ability even to listen to anyone who doesn't share our views. The most frightening thing, though, is how badly some people want to shut others up entirely.
It makes enemies of people who should simply be people who see things differently. It encourages labeling — often unjustly — that can harm and stick with someone. I'm against racism. So if you and I see things differently, you're a racist, right? Or am I racist because you think you're not one? Worst, some of the people who slap labels on other people do so impulsively or from irritation rather than any basis in fact.
Our emerging intolerance for anything outside of our own belief system is bad on so many levels, starting with the fact it's simply rude and moving into dangerous territory: It stifles understanding, withers any hope of learning or growth and too often escalates to just plain mean. It is contrary to the important role that civilized debate and disagreement have played in America's history — and the many ways they made us better.
This has not changed for me: I do believe in rallying for and against causes and big ideas, though when I chose to be a journalist, I became a chronicler, not a marcher. But the heartbeat of a marcher is something I've tried to pass on to my daughters, encouraging them to speak out for their beliefs — even when they don't match mine, which is happening more often as they mature and ponder our world. I wish they'd get it right, but I will never not love them because we disagree.
We benefit from hearing others' views — even if they're maddening. I'm not talking about hate speech or its ilk, but genuine philosophical differences by people of at least fairly goodwill and sincere intent. I have attended speeches by conservatives and liberals, interviewed people on opposite sides of nearly any issue you can imagine and presented both their viewpoints in a straight-forward manner and usually found something to like about each of them. I've changed my thinking on some major issues and refined the list of things I believe are important — and sometimes, how I feel about them.
I was taken aback recently when I heard some young adults expressing the idea that we shouldn't have to listen to people who are wrong. "Wrong" has become code for anyone who sees things differently, a battering ram with which you pummel anyone with whom you disagree.
We've been seeing it a lot lately. We used to have protests and counterprotests, but riot is a better word for the violence erupting on some campuses because one group doesn't want to hear what another has to say. Instead of not going, or looking for ways to express their disagreement, they are trying to take people's voices.
The poison we create in such a toxic environment is very likely to drift back our way and choke us. If you can steal someone's voice, I guarantee you someone else can steal yours.
At 19, I marched for Jesus. Later that year, I stood against development of a missile weapons system that I felt was morally wrong. Now, as then, I believe in rallies for and protests against causes and big ideals. But I don't believe in stifling other voices.
If I like blue lives as well as black lives — and I very much do, easily seeing examples of heroism and value in both — who am I? And what makes someone else think they have a right to decide?
We're living this huge debate right now over freedom of speech and who's right and who's wrong politically, and a lot of people are not just drawing their line in the sand, but are pouring cement over the spot where they've planted their feet.
Good luck moving when the tide shifts.
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