Its no secret that as a society we are getting worse and worse at discussing problems. From falling literacy rates in colleges to the inability to compromise or agree to disagree. Our culture is daily becoming less and less capable of interacting with ideas that we deem uncomfortable or antithetical to our own beliefs.
This entire problem is ridiculous.
Think about how life would have gone if the United States had not been able to engage the Soviet Union in discussion throughout the duration of the cold war. You can bet we all probably would not be here. In May of 1960 Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet First Secretary stormed out of a meeting with President Dwight Eisenhower. But what’s important about this is not that he left, its that he tried to discuss prior to leaving. And he didn’t go start World War 3 afterwards. He came back to the discussion table with someone he thought would be more able to talk with, which ended up being JFK.
Discussion is one of the best things about democracy. The practice goes all the way back to Ancient Greece where a system of direct democracy was used. This process has been continually refined and reimagined in order to come to the current representative democracy we have today. This ability to change and reorder the political system was not done by oppression or scare tactics. We got to where we are now because we talked and listened, we engaged in discussion with others even when we didn’t like what they had to say.
Again, look at how then Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev discussed the differences between capitalism and communism in their famous “Kitchen Debate.” This event is actually on film and can be watched here. These are two world leaders who have the collective ability to destroy the planet. So their discussion is tense, but it is ultimately an admission of them realizing that they have to learn to give and take from each other. They have to be able to communicate in order for any sane conclusion to be reached.
This is the problem we have today. Nobody wants to communicate. Everyone wants to be heard without having to do the hard part of listening to what the other person has to say. Everyone wants to be right, but doesn’t want to accept that nobody is perfect. Everyone wants their ideas to be universally accepted, so we only talk “yes men” who act as an echo chamber for our beliefs. This level of insular behavior is a huge negative when everyone partakes in it, because it closes the society off from its ability to weed out bad ideas and grow stronger. After all, if an idea is unchallengable, it is a precedent for totalitarian rule.
We need to be able to talk about the issues that we face as a society. If we are unable to create and continue discussion on a topic, that topic becomes a cancer to our ability to survive. Sure, not everything is comfortable to talk about. Sure, its easier to put your head in the sand. Sure, you can pretend that someone else will come along and solve the problem. But you are someone too, and as a member of this citizenry, its your job to help the rest of us and use the words you learned as a means of building a bridge.
So be part of the solution, engage with people you disagree with, challenge your own beliefs. Create discussion, because the more you do this, the more well-rounded of a person you will be. The more soberly you will be able to examine your life. The easier it will be for you to see the holes in your own logic. It will make you smarter, calmer, more confident. Listen to understand and appreciate the other person’s point of view, even if you could never agree with that perspective. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said,
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
Do yourself, and the world, a favor. Ask questions first.
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