20 September 2008

Politics and offense

I have a theory. Bear with me.

When having a political discussion, things usually get heated. This can be due to one of two reasons:

1. Personal attacks and mean-spirited comments or

2. Differences in opinion.

I think it's important to distinguish between these two. Personally I think differences in opinion should not be offensive, while personal attacks should be, and inherently are.

And yet, we see people become offended at differing ideas all the time. 

For example, some people believe the government should take a big role in supporting its citizens by taking taxes and then providing healthcare, social security, etc. Other people believe this is not the role of government. 

Nothing offensive about either of those viewpoints, right? 

"Heck yes, there is!" you say. Okay, but what exactly offends you? Do either of these viewpoints attack you, personally? 

I believe we interpret opposing views as offensive because, if they are correct, our ideas, which may be closely held, are wrong. And being wrong is something we hate. 

I also believe we need to get past that. We need to be able to exchange ideas without hurting feelings. We need to be able to hammer concepts against opposing concepts in order to find truth. While this process is inherently confrontational, I don't think it needs to negatively affect relationships.

What do you think? Is this an unrealistic goal? Again, I'm not talking about real personal attacks... calling someone an idiot or evil for thinking a certain way is non-productive and a good way to cause someone emotional distress. 

But maybe, the next time you run across an idea that contradicts your own, explore it without getting riled up. You might just end up tweaking your opinion in a way that you find to be positive.

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