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Amato: We can’t come together if debate is seen as conflict

(Photo by Mary Turner/Getty Images)

When conversation and debate is seen as quarrel, it’s no surprise society is as divided as it is right now.

I was at a local bar with a group of friends this weekend, when an old high school teacher of ours approached our table and engaged in friendly conversation. When he asked me what I was up to nowadays, I told him I produce a conservative talk radio show called The Jason Rantz Show.

This prompted him to ask me my opinion on today’s Republican Party. I shared what I liked and disliked about it, my opinion on President Trump, and where I think the party needs to go. This later expanded to a few other issues, and turned into more of a debate of ideas.

I loved every second of it. I had the privilege of exchanging ideas with a teacher I respect, while also showing my friends a great example of two people, who disagree on a lot of things, coming together to politely try and convince each other of our respective positions.

I thought the debate was productive and showed where both of us were coming from. What I was shocked about was the reaction of my friends. To them, I couldn’t have been more wrong, but not on any particular issue.

I love my friends and care about what they think. That’s why I felt so let down when they told me the conversation was unproductive and I had handled it poorly. One of my friends was really angry with me, telling me I just need to “be okay” with what others think.

While I don’t necessarily disagree with that premise, I felt it was really a way to tell me I shouldn’t be sharing my point of view (keep in mind, the teacher approached me and began the conversation).

I’m of the opinion that it’s important to have discussions about hard topics in our day-to-day lives. I believe we should approach those conversations, not to be rude and hit the opposition with ‘zingers,’ but to actively try to change minds. Inversely, it’s important to approach these kinds of interactions with an open mind, and be susceptible to influence.

Nothing during the debate with the teacher changed my mind, but I don’t believe that means the conversation was unproductive. And I don’t think that there was any part of the exchange that was particularly heated. What I do believe made my friend so angry was the idea that the dialogue was confrontational. That’s a problem.

If we can’t so much as have conversations with one another, society can’t thrive. If we just want to live in our echo-chambers and never be exposed to another opinion, we can’t grow as individuals. This country was built on the belief that we can exchange ideas peacefully, and that makes us different than war-torn, tyrannical countries.

During no part of the debate was I ever angry with my old teacher. I don’t believe he was angry with me either, I just think we disagreed. But conversations like that need to take place and shouldn’t be seen as taboo. I think sometimes we see disagreement as impolite and that’s why we shy away from dialogue across aisles.

People-pleasing can be a good trait, but I think it’s our duty as Americans to talk with one another. Going into tough conversations with an open mind and working to not offend, nor be offended, is a good thing.

Maybe I’m misinterpreting why my friends were so upset. I welcome their opinion on the matter, and would love to discuss how I could have handled that conversation differently. Maybe I was in the wrong, but the only way for me to know that is through open-dialogue.

I love my friends and want to hear what they believe on any topic under the sun. What I don’t love is being told I can’t try to change their minds. But hey, maybe I’m wrong.

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