There is no grand aha moment by mentioning that the United States is extremely polarized right now. At this point, it is probably even too cliche to say it. And that, my friends, is the problem. We have become too comfortable with divisiveness, anger, distrust, and our own ignorance of the other side’s point of view. It no longer bothers us to see America split into pieces by groups of people (ourselves included) who prefer talking points over serious and meaningful conversations. It no longer raises our eyebrows that the American people (that’s us) can no longer tolerate those with different beliefs, theories, and ideas. It no longer matters to us that America, the “melting pot of ideas,” is now no more than a conglomerate of side dishes who refuse to share the same plate.
What’s Wrong With Being Wrong?
The problem is not that we have become rude, hateful, or too stuck in our ways. These are all merely human conditions that every generation has faced. No, the problem is much bigger. We have set aside and left behind the very thing that formed America and made her special from the very beginning.
The United States was created to promote new and different ideas. It was forged from many viewpoints, as different thoughts were smelted down and combined through the fires of conviction that a new type of State was needed. A “new world order,” as many founding fathers called it. (No, not a one-world government, as many conspiracy theories would lead us to believe, but something much more dangerous. At least, it was dangerous to those who controlled the world at the time.) This “new world order” was based on freedom. At a time in history where ideas and different beliefs could get you killed, America was born with a promise not only to allow, but to promote the open debate of competing ideas and beliefs.
While not perfect, the Constitution of the United States got a few things so right that the world would never be the same again. Specifically, the guarantee of freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. For the first time in recorded history, the government promised people the right to openly meet and discuss differing ideas, thoughts, religious beliefs, and political viewpoints. The Bill of Rights goes so far as to say that “nothing shall infringe” on these rights. Freedom of thought was no longer at the whim of the current reigning monarch. Disagreeing with the current establishment was no longer a death sentence. In fact, such disagreements became the lifeblood that allowed America to prosper and become a beacon to people from all over the world who sought new ideas and opportunities. Debate and free-thinking were tools that allowed America to evolve, improve, and change as new ideas took root. Again, things were not perfect from the beginning, but it was this freedom of thought that allowed us to question the status quo and propose better ways of doing things. These core tenets of freedom and tools for change still exist today in the fabric of our nation. But something has changed. There is a kink in the system causing the whole thing to unravel before our eyes.
We Think Wrong is Bad
We don’t like being wrong and, more importantly, we hate it when other people are wrong. Our aversion to “wrong” has changed the dynamic of discussions in the US. We aren’t able to admit when we are incorrect, and we have come to see anyone with different beliefs as bad. This has shut down communication. We don’t want to hear the other side, either because we fear being wrong, or because we think that those on the other side are so bad that their ideas should not even be allowed an open forum.
While our government still guarantees freedom of speech, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs, our society no longer accepts it. We have decided that “wrong” (or different) is bad and that bad does not deserve a voice. But what if “wrong” was good?
I am not making an argument for relativism. I am not saying that there is no such thing as right or wrong. What I am saying is that we need to stop associating “wrong” with bad or evil. What is bad and evil is shutting down someone else’s freedom simply because we disagree with them.
In a time where America is seemingly torn in half over viewpoints, I believe that what we actually need is more discussion, not less. It is a good thing to have convictions. It is a good thing to stand up for what we believe in. However, our standing up does not mean yelling at everyone else to sit down. Civil and open discourse between different beliefs built this country and it can save it. It is up to us. Are we willing to allow debate to bring out the truth, or do we all just want to keep shouting our own version of lies and half-truths? Are we willing to allow others a voice to protect our own, or shall we fight to silence the other side until no one is allowed to talk?
New ideas and different viewpoints are meant to be shared, spread, and debated. It is through this practice that our society is refined and refreshed. In fact, it is the only way to truly see which ideas are wrong and which are correct. Debate allows ideas to be truly examined, tested, and perfected. Without debate, all we have are a bunch of wrong people trying to yell the loudest.
Let the debate begin.