Waking up to a Facebook feed full of political commentary, videos, and overall hate has been a reality for many Americans over the past few months. The shaming (“If you voted for Trump, you must hate minorities, you racist bigot”), the judgment (“I can’t associate with you if you voted for so-and-so”), and the rants (“I know you don’t want my opinion, but here it is”) reached a peak in the week after the election.
It made me think: is this a good way to share your opinions? Plastering them onto everyone’s social media walls? Forcing your thoughts on people who never asked for them?
Freshmen at SMU take a class called Personal Responsibility and Wellness (PRW), and this semester, all the PRW classes completed an “awareness” activity. A stranger stood at the front of the room and asked us all to come to the middle, and then she pointed to one wall.
“I am going to read a statement,” she said, “and if you agree with it, please step to this side of the room. If you disagree, please step to the other side of the room.”
My stomach already felt sick. I didn’t really know any of the kids in the class, but they were still people I had to interact with for the rest of the semester. As an introvert, I prefer to keep my opinions largely to myself, unless I genuinely have something to contribute to an argument. Still, I moved along with the other students.
The statements varied between light and heavy opinion questions, from “Is Colin Kaepernick being unpatriotic by not standing for the anthem?” to “Should abortion be legal?” and “Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry?” The class divided and the stranger asked if anyone wanted to defend their position.
For the most part, things were kept civil, but not entirely. Some homophobic and racist things were said, and while those sharing might have been comfortable with shouting out their opinions to the entire class, not all the listeners were comfortable hearing them. The class consisted of several students of color and at least one LGBT+ student. Overall, most of the people I spoke to had very negative experiences during the activity, feeling isolated on a different side of the room or forced to hear degrading comments about how “poor kids deserve to be screwed over in the ACT process, because they’ll never be as smart as upper-class kids.”
Which brings me back to the original question: what is the civil way to share your opinion? Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinions and the right to share them, but when considering your fellow humans’ feelings, how should you share? When should you share? Where should you share?
In my opinion, dialogue is important—now more than ever. Engaging in conversation with people who hold different opinions can open up ideas, widen horizons, or at the very least, allow for greater consideration of people who are different from you. But posting on your Facebook account is not dialogue. Forcing students to declare charged political opinions by standing divided from each other is not dialogue.
But then, that’s my opinion. Am I forcing it on you?
This article was written by Lorien Melnick. Click here to see more of Lorien’s work.