We must learn to disagree with respect

  • Rick Sirvint lives in Rindge.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018 10:49AM

It used to be that any teacher worth his/her salt would teach that students should respect the rights of others to express opinions even if you personally disagreed with the view stated. This fundamental lesson, the prime directive for a functioning civil society, is what is absent today.

This lack of respect leads to intense levels of hatred that mark political and economic discussions. That is not good for a democracy. John Stuart Mill, the great English political philosopher, held that if the entire world was of one opinion and one person believed a contrary view, the world would not have the right to silence that person. I often felt like that person at town meetings.

Locke wrote in his thesis On Liberty “that not all opinions are equal.” Some are better than others. How can that be when an opinion is not a fact? A person expressing an opinion may, by virtue of experience and education, have more knowledge and understanding of an issue. I accept an opinion about my eyes from my retina specialist.

It is in areas of politics, economics, foreign affairs, culture, and societal problems that accepting opposing opinions becomes more difficult because they are threatening. Opinions about my eyes threaten no one.

The trick is to try not hating someone because they hold an opposite opinion. Avoiding political discussions is a way of handling this, but that has drawbacks. I can sit quietly and not engage in a discussion, get angry, and vow not to talk to the person ever again. I can get bored out of my mind by engaging in such profound comments as, “Yes, winter is very cold.” “It’s tough getting older.” “What are your dogs’ names?”

Why have a Bill of Rights if people are afraid to express themselves?

It is not necessary for us to like other opinions but hating an opinion does not justify hating a person who holds that view. Racists, terrorists, anti-Semites deserve hatred. However, rarely in life does one come across a person who should be hated.

It would be insane to hate someone who preferred a different flavor ice cream, different season, or a different color.

Even if you dislike an opinion you can learn something from an opposing view. This is because most opinions are not 100 percent right or wrong. Abortion is an emotional issue. I have my own opinion, but I totally respect opposing points of view. The same goes for gun control.

Locke wrote that if an opinion had absolutely no merit, it could still be useful to demonstrate the correctness of a contrary position.

Dear Reader, these reflections on the nature of contemporary discourse are for you and myself. I do not hold myself up as a paragon of virtue in these matters, But I know what my goal is. It is a reachable position to listen to other points of view.

I cannot change America or New Hampshire. I could not convince Rindge residents that using the Electric Trust Fund would save them a million dollars in taxes and given them a new free fire truck. I consider that a mistake, but I don’t hate anyone for it.

I knew a man named Joseph who survived Auschwitz because he was not a woman, a child, sick, or elderly. Eighty of his relatives were murdered by the Nazis. He told me two opinions. Anyone who spent a day in Auschwitz would thank God for living in America, and that the most important thing in the world is not to hate.

Rick Sirvint lives in Rindge.