The horrific school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has ignited an unprecedented urgency in the gun control debate. Outspoken survivors of the attack have not let America easily forget the trauma they experienced. The conspicuous political divide has only widened and taken root, by some for heavy gun control and disdain for anyone who supports the Constitution’s Second Amendment, leaving both sides frustrated and our nation torn.
A week after the shooting, my friend came to me with the idea to hold a symposium to educate young people and to show the media — as well as older generations —that the Parkland students do not represent the views of all high school-age teenagers. I was frustrated, as perhaps a lot of Americans were, with what I perceived as biased media coverage favoring students who were advocating for greater gun restrictions while limiting the voices of the students who did not favor gun control.
My efforts for the symposium began as an initiative to have a community discussion about school safety and the Second Amendment. And while I planned for a balanced discussion, I secretly hoped the conversation would favor my personal views.
But something happened that Wednesday night that I didn’t expect. I gained a unique perspective as moderator of the event and occupied the “middle ground” of the issue during the discussion and witnessed a shift in my perspective for someone on the other side of the debate.
In my attempt to put together a balanced approach, I came across a wide variety of positions on this polarizing topic. Through my research, and in the course of our community discussion, I started to see the other side more clearly. I did not agree with all conclusions, but I began to see things from their point of view.
What I had originally surmised about the opposing side turned out to be misplaced when I actually started listening. Several times I was tempted to interrupt and put forth my opinion, but I reminded myself that as moderator, my role was to facilitate discussion, not engage in debate. With an open mind, a canvas of ideas and solutions emerged. I realized that in spite of our differences, we all want the same things: safety, peace, freedom and harmony. We just disagree on how to reach those ends.
This symposium represented a personal journey and epiphany in which I gained insight on how to discuss divisive topics, as well as problem-solving. I believe that at the heart of this polarizing topic is simply a lack of sincere communication and empathy. A “my way or the highway” attitude will never move the sides together.
The lack of communication can be fundamentally solved through real conversation — not flippant comments on social media — and active listening. I learned you can gain an appreciation of the other side just by conversing. If we could simply talk to people, show respect and allow everyone’s voice to be heard, the immediate results would be astonishing.
The 2016 election and Donald Trump’s presidency have seemingly brought political divisiveness to new heights. But so what if my neighbor thinks differently than me on how to interpret the Second Amendment? He’s still my neighbor. If my teacher or teammate supported a different presidential candidate than I did, should I disregard their thinking and positions? I should think not.
It seems as though we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. We should not allow differing political views to get in the way of how we view and treat each other. C.S. Lewis once said, “Your love for your fellow man should never be compromised by the content of their character, because you yourself are flawed and imperfect.”3 comments on this story
Let’s channel our frustration into solutions. Gandhi is frequently quoted as saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
The way I see it, before us lies two paths. We can either let the current political circumstance define us, or we can demonstrate through our words and actions America's unique ability to come together when it matters.
The mystic chords of our commonality found in our desire for liberty and our commitment to peace should triumph over all political ideologies. We must never forget that, before anything else, our most basic common link is that we are all Americans.