Preserving discourse means becoming comfortable with discomfort.
We live in a time where it’s easy to find people who share our views and opinions. It’s also easy to avoid those who don’t. But if our informational and philosophical diet consists solely of ideas and perspectives we agree with, we’re not engaging in discourse. We’re not learning anything new, and we’re not challenged to think critically about our beliefs.
Preserving discourse is more critical than ever in a world becoming increasingly polarized. Discourse is essential for the exchange of ideas and the progress of society. When we shut down discourse, we shut off the possibility of learning from each other and advancing as a collective.
A marketplace of free ideas allows us to better understand our own beliefs. When we only expose ourselves to views we agree with, we never have to confront our assumptions and question why we hold them. This can lead to a dangerous echo chamber where our beliefs are never challenged, and we become close-minded.
Preserving discourse also allows us to better understand others. Demonizing those with different views is easy when we only hear one side of an argument. But when we engage and communicate without fear of being ostracised, we can see that there are usually two sides to an issue and that people typically have profoundly personal and entrenched reasons for their views.
Recently, advocating for “safe spaces” on college campuses and elsewhere has become increasingly popular. The idea behind safe spaces is that specific topics should not be open to debate because they are too sensitive or personal. For example, someone might argue that it is inappropriate to debate transgender existence because doing so would be hurtful to trans people or to those with conservative religious beliefs.
There are a few problems with this line of thinking. First, it assumes that all transgender and conservative people feel the same about political and social issues — which, speaking as a transgender woman, I can affirm is undoubtedly not true. Second, it denies that some people might change their minds if they heard both sides of the debate. Finally, and most importantly, preserving discourse means becoming comfortable with views we disagree with, encouraging people to avoid uncomfortable situations instead of learning how to deal with them.
It is vital to preserving discourse to ensure that all voices are heard. This means creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their opinions, even if the majority does not share them. Self-segregating into like-minded communities. This has been made easier by the echo chamber effect of the internet, allowing people to only see the information they agree with. While this might make people feel good in the short term, it can lead to a dangerous lack of discourse.
When people only surround themselves with views they agree with, they become less open to hearing other points of view. This can lead to extremes where people become unable or unwilling to discuss with someone with a different opinion. If we are incapable of learning from each other and growing as individuals through our differences rather than despite them, we are more likely to become closed-minded and prejudiced against those who don’t share our views.
We are lucky to live in a time when we can access so much information. But with this access comes the responsibility to curate what we allow into our lives. We get to choose what we read, watch, and listen to. We can choose to engage with ideas and people that challenge us, or we can choose to insulate ourselves from anything that might make us uncomfortable.
The latter option is tempting, especially when the world seems so divided. But if we want to maintain healthy discourse, we need to be willing to engage with differing viewpoints. We are called to make a conscious effort to seek out and engage with those who have different opinions. This can be done by reading articles, watching videos from sources we don’t usually agree with, or talking to people in our lives with different political or social views.
We must find a way to engage constructively with those who hold different views, listen openly to what others say, and share our thoughts in a way that invites discussion rather than shutting it down. We must support institutions and platforms that facilitate constructive dialogue, such as public libraries, museums, and news outlets that adhere to journalistic standards of fairness and accuracy.
In a healthy society, preserving discourse is essential for maintaining different viewpoints and advancing new ideas. This can be difficult, especially when we disagree with the presented views. Hearing other perspectives can help us better understand our beliefs and values. It can also lead to more productive dialogue and debate, vital for a thriving democracy.