mural with trees on left, brick wall with eagle flying through, "Different kinds of trees can grow together...why can't people do the same?"

Is Opinion-Flinging the New Graffiti?

The Bill of Rights protects your free speech, not moderated, carefully worded, politically correct speech. Free speech. Yet,56% of college students and 40% of millennials think free speech is only acceptable if it doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. In that case, the biggest violators would be family, especially family.

When we hear things we don’t like or don’t agree with we can choose what to do next: act, ignore, refute, reflect. The words of other cannot bind us, only we can do that to ourselves.

Can you imagine a policeman reading you your rights, cuffing you, and putting you in the back of a police car for something you said? It’s possible. Those free speech doubters will be voting (or not voting) in legislators for the next 50 years,

A bad example

squawking seagull
Image by MadameCat-Art from Pixabay

Union College President David Harris wrote in Inside Higher Ed: free speech is “when a person yells a view and then leaves, after which someone with an opposing perspective does the same.” This juvenile definition is more like verbal graffiti than a civilized exploration and exchange of ideas. A successful democratic republic depends on an educated and informed citizenry to keep a sharp eye on our leadership. We are unable to do our job if our version of free speech is opinion flinging.

How much thought goes into an opinion you don’t have to explain, explore, or defend?

Confrontation sucks. I’m advocating calm, reasoned talks about opinions, experiences, and beliefs. Stephen Crowder’s Change My Mind series on college campuses is a good example.

Why we need to hear each other

Image by henrike71 from Pixabay

A variety of viewpoints reflects a healthy society. We want more women in STEM fields and leadership roles for the same reason – they add different ideas and communication styles that can enrich problem-solving and product creation.

We need to give respect more than we need consensus. “Tell me why you think that” yields more fruitful discourse than “How can you think that?”

People just want to be heard. We are having a massive communication problem.

Agree to disagree

Silencing or bullying others with different views is not acceptable. We are all entitled to our opinions. People who shout their opinion and walk away are not interested in communicating. They are afraid. Afraid of change, exposure, growth, attack.

It’s not personal

If we can agree that an opinion is not the same as a person, then it can be calmly looked at, turned over, examined. You are not your opinion. You are unique. Opinions can be shared by many, yet there is only one you.

An opinion is a preference. It doesn’t determine your worth or your potential. It does not reflect your soul. You won’t lose yourself if you change your opinion.

Often, people with different opinions have different information, which means they are arguing over different things. That’s why it is crucial to ask each other “why” questions that make take some time to explain instead of treating people like one-dimensional paper cut-outs representing the opposition.

Why are we arguing?

horned deer with closed eyes and sticking out tongue
Image by U. Leone from Pixabay

Politics is not important enough to us for everyone to be this upset over who you voted for or which Supreme Court Justice was appointed. Politics is important, it is just not as important to Americans as all the shouting would have you believe. How do I know? Look at our voting rate: 55.4% of eligible voters participated in the 2016 election, according to CNN. The Washington Post estimates nearly 100 million people chose not to vote. Even when a local high school graduate ran for President in 2008, only 65.9% of eligible Hawaii voters participated. [Possibly because his rags-to-riches narrative conflicted with his expensive private school education?]

Our own lives are more important to us than laws and legislators. So why the outrage, frothing, hateful comments over something we are honestly apathetic toward?

Maybe people are feeling lost and frustrated with their lives, looking for anything that will give them meaning and feel a part of something.

What can we do?

  • Talk to neighbors.
  • Start a club.
  • Volunteer.
  • Look for commonalities.
  • Listen to people’s stories.
  • Read and listen to primary sources before forming an opinion

Social fabric takes time and attention to build. Don’t destroy it over politics. Besides family and church, building community is the most important, enduring thing you can do.

illustration of nautilus holding spray paint can
Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

What is the solution to a graffiti problem? Paint over it often, or…make a beautiful mural in the same space. Oh, wait! We already are a mural, a quilt, a kaleidoscope of opinions, ideas, and backgrounds. Even Nature avoids monochromes. We don’t want a plain brown, green, or white wall, or for ugly graffiti to speak for us. Free speech and civil conversations are our American skyscraper-sized mural.

Join the conversation. Don’t run off with your spray can.

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