What happened to civil discourse?

Following the publishing of a story on The Fuel, recounting the events of the dancers kneeling during the national anthem, the opinions and opposition displayed in the comments section by the community were strong, to say the least. Though many comments consisted of support, as well as logical and respectful disdain, others fell more along the lines of “wow bunch of idiots!” and “shows disrespect and stupidity!” 

Strangely enough, the bulk of these degrading and equally unproductive comments were made by adults within the community, instead of students. One would expect children to be the ones making baseless arguments backed on mere insults, but this doesn’t seem to be the case, which raises questions regarding the decaying state of civil discourse amongst not only the community, but the national, and even global community as well. 

Regardless of the actual extent of the article in question, as well as the opinion of those commenting, including insults and slurs to display disagreement with what high school students are doing is absolutely unbecoming of any adult. All adults, whether they realize it or not, hold a position of authority over those who have not yet graduated high school and, therefore, are in a situation in which it is their responsibility to set a proper example.

That being said, the aforementioned behavior is not mutually exclusive to this article, nor is it even exclusive to the school. Over the past few years, within society itself, a lack of civil discourse can be immediately seen regarding any issue with even an ounce of arguable value. Perhaps, the general populous has confused being free to voice their opinions with their individual opinion always being right and abusing that freedom to not only spread their self-righteousness but put down any opposing viewpoints, whether their counterargument is backed logically or not. 

Though it is impossible to narrow down a sole culprit responsible for the disintegration of civil discourse within our society, we can ponder the innate reasons behind individuals hurting others through slander and disrespect. Excluding pure malice as a contributor, there are potentially two major reasons people hurt others for their own sake.

The first of these reasons is a conflict of interest between viewpoints, or in other words, one individual cannot be happy if another individual’s circumstance for happiness is achieved. This example is most prominent in political arguments or debates. For example, if gun control becomes strict, those who support loose gun control will be unsatisfied while those who support gun control will be content. 

The second reason an individual may be willing to hurt another for some sort of gain is much more simple: they are unable or unwilling to understand what it is like to be in the position of the person they are hurting. They cannot realize or empathize with the pain they are contributing because they are unable to feel the effects of that pain themselves. 

With all this in mind, how can civil discourse be inspired within society once again? 

Perhaps emphasizing a point that people should make more of an effort to compromise or show empathy is a solution. While that may be the case, is it permanent? Are people going to finish reading this article with a new outlook on life that will spread to the masses of the world causing every individual to contemplate how they make others feel? As beautiful as that idea is, it’s mere fantasy. It takes unfathomable amounts of effort to change a person, let alone manipulate the way of thinking of the entire global population.

In lieu of encouraging you, the reader, to go out into the world and try to understand those around you more and inspire more peaceful interactions, instead take a look within yourself. The only individual who is able to most efficiently and consistently change a person is themselves. If you’re the kind of person who gets emotional about your beliefs, and is quick to belittle or insult anyone who compromises those beliefs, instead think to yourself – how might you react or feel if someone said those things to you? Let their pain become your pain. If we are able to inherit the pain we inflict on others, you may find that your interactions become a lot more peaceful, and a middle ground is considered rather than a black and white yelling contest. 

The world is unfair, unpredictable, and full of eons worth of conflict. Consider whether calling that student “an idiot” for that reason is even worth the effort when talking, discussing, and politely debating can lead to legitimate change and progress between people. No one’s opinion is worth more than others, especially if they can’t say it without degrading or disrespecting someone.

We are all equally alive. 


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