Sep 122011
 
Authors: Allison Sylte

I’m pro-choice. I don’t think that anyone has the right to tell me what to do with my body. I support gay marriage, and think that Obamacare, while not perfect, is a step in the right direction. I think that people have every right to build a mosque near Ground Zero, and that no one has any real reason to own a gun.

Just out of principle, I imagine that half of the people who read this will immediately agree with me, satisfied that my ideology coincides with theirs. The other half, assuming they’re reading past that first paragraph, probably assume that I’m a morally abhorrent, naïve liberal who has been corrupted by public higher education.

Nobody is necessarily right or wrong about any of the moral issues that arise from abortion, gay marriage or gun rights. That’s what makes them divisive, that’s what makes them controversial and that’s what gives people such a strong reaction when they read about them.

While I’ve been given every right by the Constitution to express what I think, this automatically gives my opposition just as much of a right to tell me what they think.

That’s what democracy, at least in principle, is about. But is that the way it really is, or have societal norms about discussing controversial issues stopped us from having these conversations?
A former professor of mine said it best: “Americans like to think we have an inherent right to offend, but we also think have an inherent protection against being offended.”

And it’s true. A simple Google search of “offensive topics” leads to pages and pages of results, and countless Ask.com and About.com articles about how to sidestep conversations about these topics to avoid offending anyone who might overhear.

We live a society defined by political correctness and fear of offending. Because of that, the only way to express opinions is to be surrounded with people who are like-minded. Liberals have Boulder, conservatives have the South, and rarely do we leave those bubbles we put ourselves in, out of fear of being offended by opposing ideologies.

We all love to spout our opinions, but when we’re confronted with any sort of opposing view, we freeze up. We either yell or dodge the conversation. We can’t discuss abortion, gay marriage and gun rights in a civil way, simply because our ideologies are too different. These topics have become taboo, something that we assume we can never agree upon, and therefore to preserve the peace we should never honestly discuss.

Which is a shame, because these are the very topics that we should be discussing. Our innate fear of being offended has prevented us from actually having honest conversations.

But what can we actually do about it? Do we unleash the fury of a million heated political conversations at once?

And seriously, even if we do suck it up and actually have conversations, is there any way in hell that we can ever agree?

My answer is no, probably not. A lot of issues, like abortion, gay marriage and gun rights, don’t necessarily have a middle ground that satisfy everyone.

But it’s not about the solutions as much as it is about the conversation. We need to get past our collective fear of being offended, and instead embrace it. Since I have the right to say I’m pro-choice, I also have to accept that someone might get on this comment board and call me a total moron.

And instead of being mad, I pledge to actually learn something from it, instead of immediately getting offended and writing off whatever is said as ignorant conservative diatribe.

Depending on which way we slant, instead of avoiding Fox News or CNN, maybe we all can try to watch it, to learn something from it and at least accept there are other valid opinions out there besides our own. Instead of avoiding being offended, maybe we can, as a society, start confronting and addressing those opposing views.

Maybe one day, we will promote enough freedom of discussion where it’s not taboo to talk about important topics, and instead it’s encouraged.

And maybe one day, we can live in a society where we have both the right to offend and be offended, and we’re totally cool with it.

_Content Managing Editor Allison Sylte is a junior journalism major. Her column runs Tuesdays in the Collegian. She can be reached at news@collegian.com. _

 Posted by at 4:21 pm

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