Columnist John Rochford argues the importance of maintaining civility between people on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Rochford believes having discussions with those whom you disagree with politically is helpful to refining your own ideas.

Political dialogue and civility is crucial, especially in today’s political climate. There is an importance in engaging in dialogue and maintaining a level of decorum and civility amongst those individuals whom you may disagree with. No difference is made if one is a conservative, liberal or anything in between.

Last week, Ellen DeGeneres and George W. Bush attended a Dallas Cowboys game and proceeded to merrily sit with each other in a skybox. DeGeneres explained on her show that Bush is her friend, and that is okay to have friends that you disagree with.  Unsurprisingly, backlash ensued. A few celebrities including Mark Ruffalo came out to decry the inter-political friendship; elements of the ubiquitous "Twitterati" went further, accusing Ellen of disingenuity because they claim people with opposing views cannot be friends, friendly or cordial. This problem of attributing the worst, most nefarious motives to your political opposites is a problem that will only poison the wells further day by day.

Readers should try and have some type of conversation with their political opposites, or at the least watch or read content that you normally would scoff at.

It was interesting writing my first summer column for the Daily in June. My message in that article was that it is okay to be a conservative on campus and that my writings, to ensure disclosure as a columnist, would be examining the world from my own version of conservative liberalism.

Bush: What is his legacy?

President George W. Bush gives a farewell address to the nation Jan. 15, 2009, in the East Room of the White House.

Once that article made it to the Daily’s Facebook page, there was a fair amount of community backlash in which I was told that by extension of my political beliefs I am a racist and neo-fascist, and that it is not okay to be a conservative period.

That was an interesting accusation for a person to level against a mixed race black and white writer, especially when they have never held a conversation with me or understand the nuances of my views on different issues and they probably have never engaged with a conservative in any real way, but I digress.

This equivalent exists on the right-wing side of isle as well, no doubt about that; there are fanatics across the political spectrum. The real dangers in attributing not just the worst, but the absolute most nefarious motives to others is that first, those motives rarely exist in reality as they might in the fanatical mind.

The second is that although those motives rarely exist, once they are believed and professed as true and spread through social media and mainstream media (because mainstream media especially, above all else, loves controversy more so than a factual story — it sells more papers) others will become “outraged” and like a virus the incipient hatred for political rivals spread. Your political rival, in turn, cannot believe that accusations are leveled against them; because the accusations are so far out there, they will attribute the worst possible motives not just to you, but your side of the political spectrum. Thus, a cyclical wave of hatred and division are borne.

It is okay to be conservative; it is okay to be liberal; it is okay to be a progressive; it is okay to be whatever. It is also okay to disagree, vehemently even, but realize there are different ways of looking at even a single issue. 

Moreover, how can one truly know and develop real critical thinking and engage in introspection of their own ideas if they have never truly engaged in a good faith discussion with their opposite? Having a dialogue and having a civil conversation with those who disagree is vital to the political health of the nation and should be important for individuals to refine their own ideas. You do not even have to be friends, like DeGeneres and Bush, but there is still value in simply listening.

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Letter to the Editor Submission Link

(3) comments

Steve Gregg

You know, John, back in the 1970s when I went to Iowa State, politics were just about non-existent on campus. When the presidential election came along, there was a little discussion, but not much. I could not tell you what party any of my housemates were, not even my room-mates.

The major topics were girls and girls and girls. In the afternoon, we would play Risk until supper. The campus just was not politically charged like it is now. Nobody protested about anything, ever.

And everyone was civil. It all seems like a fantasy world now.

Ron Solomon

Hahahaha “no one protested in the 70s”. “Nobody protested anything ever”. Amazing.

Steve Gregg

That's right, Ron. There were no protests about anything when I was at Iowa State. We pulled out of Vietnam in 1973, when I started college. There was no war to protest. The protest culture that exists now on campus did not exist then. The campus just was not politicized like it is now. Politics rarely came up in conversation.

Back then, there was a big difference in politicization between states. Iowa, as now, was a very civilized and polite state. Colorado was more radicalized. Every now and then, you would run across radical liberals. California was very radicalized and rude. Everywhere you went, there was a strident lefty in your face. Iowa was much more congenial than either of those two.

To be blunt, your objection is based on ignorance.

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