COLUMN: Let’s agree to disagree
Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 16:01
The day when everyone in this fine country stops fighting, debating, and disagreeing and finally just agrees on everything will be a remarkable day. A remarkably terrible, no-good, very bad day.
One of the most essential ingredients of a free society is a healthy and thriving marketplace of ideas. Democracy is inherently cacophonous and dissonant — in other words, democracy naturally involves a lot of people with a lot of different ideas piping up and making their voices heard. Respectful disagreement isn’t just “OK” in a free country; it’s essential.
It’s interesting to note the mistakes that are made by government when there is a lack of healthy discussion and disagreement in the decision-making process. The lack of serious, responsible debate in Congress after 9/11 led to the hasty passage of the USA Patriot Act and the Iraq War Resolution, the soundness of both of which has come under question in years since. President George W. Bush would have been well served by having a few more courageous cabinet members who offered contrasting viewpoints on his Iraq policy; President Barack Obama would have benefited from hearing from a few more skeptics about the efficacy of the Affordable Care Act.
My point really isn’t to pass judgment on these policies. My point is that responsible policymaking and good leadership is much more likely to happen when decision-makers are surrounded by a lot of different perspectives. Issues in the real world are rarely black and white; in fact, they’re rarely simple at all. The more diversity in perspective leaders can get — including from divergent and conflicting viewpoints — the better informed they will be to make smart decisions.
Frankly, this principle carries over into your life and mine just as much as it does for the president of the United States. The point of being in college goes beyond acquiring a set of major-related occupational skills. The point of a college education is to learn how to learn, how to think and what you think. That’s most valuable skill set I think you can receive from college.
A big part of developing this skill set is learning how to analyze others’ ideas and communicate your own. That’s an invaluable personal and professional skill, regardless of your major. One of the best ways to develop this skill is by gaining exposure to a wide diversity of ideas, talking to people with whom you may disagree and learning about perspectives divergent from your own. Doing so will make you a better person with better job prospects. But you’ll also become a better citizen of this American democratic republic. Remember, little is more important in a democracy than having a robust, well-informed marketplace of ideas. That figurative marketplace comes from citizens knowing how to think, actually choosing to think and then caring enough to share what they think.
Whether your thinking takes you to the right or the left of the political spectrum or anywhere in between really doesn’t matter. The American marketplace of ideas needs bright, well-informed voices on all sides. What does matter is that you choose to think carefully; to listen carefully and respectfully to other people even if you disagree with them; and to pipe up when you have something to contribute even when others may disagree with you. Whether you end up in front of a high school classroom or in the Oval Office, the world needs you to have the courage to listen, to think and to disagree.