By Parker Hancock, SGA undergraduate executive vice president
Georgia Tech is a diverse community. Nearly every nationality, religion, political affiliation and ideology is represented among our student body. One of the most remarkable things about our campus, though, is how little we discuss these differences. The Southern maxim to “never discuss politics and religion” seems to be the norm.
Maybe it’s time to rethink this rule. I’ve always thought it unusual that the two topics that most influence our lives are the two that we feel like we can’t discuss. We don’t feel like we can discuss the ideas behind how we live our lives in the context of the questions “what is best or true?” The governing rule, “to each his own” seems to be prevalent. This is not the case when it comes to ideology. Every viewpoint comes from a set of first principles, working to conclusions. Simple logic tells us that among any set of mutually exclusive propositions, either one is true, or none are true. Everyone isn’t right.
What amazes me most about these exchanges is how few people’s minds are changed when they are called names, yet still the various sides persist. I do think there is way out of this unhealthy view of ideological differences, but it’s something radically different that what we’re used to. I think we need to rethink the notion of ideological tolerance. Rather than just living with differences, I think it’s time we figured out where those differences lie, and begin to take seriously why we believe what we believe.
Such a solution is full of pitfalls. Dialogue can turn to disagreement, disagreement to argument, argument to blows if you’re not careful. If we want to build a community that is able to discuss one another’s ideas, and really reflect on where our ideas come from, there are two skills we must develop:
First, we must learn to be persuasive. If we’re talking to someone we disagree with on an issue, we must learn how to articulate our position in way that shows where our ideas are coming from, and why our position makes better sense. This must be done in a winsome way that does not seek to demean those we disagree with.
Second, we must learn to be persuadable. Even the most intelligent members of our society still err in their thinking. In short, we need to be humble enough to consider the possibility that we’re wrong. New evidence and arguments should be carefully considered and our positions on everything possibly rethought.
If we rethink and redefine tolerance in such a way as to permit the discussion of right and wrong thinking, I think we’ll make strides towards building a vibrant intellectual life on this campus. Undoubtedly we’ll still disagree, but we’ll at least know why.