A depressing trend has developed over the course of this current political season: fewer people than ever before are engaging themselves in legitimate discussion. Though people naturally develop circles of influence, which tend to contain people who all share similar views, this tendency can easily create an “echo chamber” of like minds. This country has become so polarized politically because most people have started to disregard, even vilify, anything that anyone on the other side of the aisle has to say.
Take the recent controversy over “Dixie,” for example. The university’s decision to remove the song from sporting events has generated a lot of controversy, but it seems that very few people are actually discussing it. Just walking around campus or browsing Facebook, one can find plenty of different opinions on the issue, but one will not likely find the holders of these opposing opinions treating each other with courtesy, much less having a genuine conversation.
By refusing to hear anyone out, most people have distilled a highly complex debate to a binary conflict. Defenders of the decision openly slander the “Southern racist bigots,” while the opponents talk of their heritage being disrespected and destroyed. Instead of holding civil conversations amongst each other to solve this sensitive conflict, many people are instead satisfied by the assurances resounding from within their own school of thought.
This applies not only to our local “Dixie” controversy, but also national politics and the news that people read. If someone only gets their news from MSNBC or Fox News, while wholly dismissing other news sources, then they will likely be hearing only one side of a multifaceted story. While it is not inherently wrong to share or enjoy Tomi Lahren videos or Huffington Post articles, it is dangerous to not also find an opposing viewpoint. Such news outlets tend to only relay a single side of the story, so one must make a conscious effort to avoid forming an opinion without hearing from a second, opposing news source first.
One of the major benefits of attending a liberal arts university is the many opportunities to experience and explore new viewpoints, to question the legitimacy of one’s own beliefs and values and to emerge a more informed and better person. In theory, no information or conversation should be off limits, but many people habitually make it so for themselves. Only someone who is truly confident in their views will welcome discussion. If their views are right, or have actual merit to them, then they will hold up in the face of scrutiny. If not, then they can rest in the fact that they have learned something new. Therefore, you should welcome the discussion, because you benefit either way.
Hunter Williams is an international studies and German major from Madison.