“You support eugenics, what’s wrong with you?” “You do know that what you are arguing for is racist, right?” “Can you just leave?” “You’re just a stupid liberal hippie who doesn’t know what they are talking about” “Can you believe what this racist asshole in my class said?”

These are but a few of statements I have heard or seen in my trek through Grinnell College. What do they have in common? They are attempts to stifle conversation instead of propagating it.

Bla bla bla, typical argument from a white guy who is whining about how his freedom of speech is limited, bla bla bla. As I write this I realize that perhaps this argument falls into a line of narrative that has already been drawn into the sand: the discourse of people complaining about political correctness. Which is why I want to make something clear:

I am not arguing against political correctness.

Instead, what I am arguing against is attempts to stifle conversation and drown out ideas in the name of political correctness. I’m not arguing in favor of people being able to spout out whatever offensive comment they want; what I am arguing in favor of is the ability of people to express an opinion that might be construed as offensive without being shut down before they have had a chance to talk.

Too often in this place I have seen people confidently dominate conversations with their ideals and rhetoric, and then get angry at/humiliate/insult/ostracize people who dare to disagree. For a place that claims to be diverse and tolerant, this tolerance is spread out over a really narrow range.

And this is not an exclusive problem for “leftist liberals”, or those people the internet has decided to stereotype as hypersensitive, easily offended “Social Justice Warriors”. It applies to many different people on campus: people who have deeply held belief systems and are resistant to hearing arguments against them. People who mock and use other demeaning, belittling terms to describe those with differing views. People who refuse to listen to the other side of the argument, and who will rarely engage with the other side in conversation.

Which does not lead to proper discourse or dialogue, since people clashing over ideas is what stimulates ideas and critical thinking. Hearing ideas that do not necessarily resonate with yours usually bring up uncomfortable questions, yes, but thinking about topics in uncomfortable ways helps you analyze your beliefs. Perhaps it will show you that what you believed in all along is wrong.

Or it will reaffirm your beliefs.

Or it will show you a new way of approaching a topic.

Whatever it is, the outcome of calm, respectful dialogue can only be positive. Instead, what we see is people shutting down conversation on the other side, and rarely engaging

But now that this problem is pointed out, how do we proceed? Criticizing a problem endlessly does little to solve it, so what can we do?

These are just some of my suggestions: when someone challenges an idea of yours, make sure to fully understand what they are saying instead of making assumptions. Keep everything in a civil, respectful tone. Ask yourself, is the argument I’m about to make against this person based on logic and discourse, or is it an attempt to silence? Am I criticizing their argument or insulting them? And so on so forth. But above all, be respectful.

And just have lots of compassion, you know – love thy neighbor and whatnot. Just because someone has a different experience of the world does not make them evil, it just means they experience the world differently to the way you experience the world.

Anyway, as the internet quote I once read on Imgur said, beware of being this sort of person:

“I am open and tolerant of all beliefs, as long as they agree with my own.”