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Article:   People Must Bear Diversity in Opinion

By Janet Pfeiffer
Daily Record
August 21, 2007

When will people learn to disagree with dignity? As I continue to read the ongoing debate between the "pro-bear" and "anti-bear" hunters, it's disheartening to see such animosity between the parties. People seem unwilling or unable to allow one another to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions without being berated by their opponents. Both sides are passionate about their positions, as is the case with most debates, and passion is what fuels a vigorous and interesting debate.

Why can't we allow and respect each other's position? I, too, have very strong feelings about the bear situation and have no problem discussing it with anyone. However, I refuse to sink to mud-slinging insults and disparaging remarks about the other. Disagreements are a necessary and valuable part of life. Expressing our differences opens our minds to unexplored possibilities, to learning new things and discovering new ideas. It supports and encourages creativity and growth.

For some, however, opposition can be very threatening. Some feel that there can only be one "right" answer and so if two people disagree then one must be right and the other wrong. If I believe I'm right, then I must prove the other is mistaken. But sometimes it's not a matter of right or wrong. It's just that opinions are different. And different is OK.

The venomous attacks have got to stop. They only breed more hatred and contempt.

Perhaps a few suggestions on how to debate with dignity would help:

  • Remember that it's OK to disagree. It's not OK o be disrespectful.

  • Avoid using terms such as "right" or "wrong." Even though the issue may justify it, very few people are able to graciously accept being proven wrong. Allow each party to maintain his or her position and dignity, and only focus on providing strong evidence to support your position.

  • Remain fair and open-minded. Parachutes only work when open. So it is with our minds. Closed, both can cripple us.

  • Never embarrass or humiliate the other party. Avoid character assassination. It's the quickest way to make an enemy and loose the respect of others.

  • No name-calling. Never! Ever! It's childish, rude and hurtful, and reveals an unattractive side of the offender. And what possible purpose could it serve? By referring to someone in a derogatory manner, will that suddenly make him or her see your point more clearly and realize his or her error? I doubt it. Or do you hope that your intimidating methods will cause the other party to retreat in humiliation and defeat, thus declaring you the "winner?" Highly unlikely. Or are you seeking a way of releasing your anger and frustration? There are less destructive means of accomplishing that as well.

  • Leave the judging (of others) to Judge Judy. No one is qualified to judge another. "Do not judge me until you have walked a mile in my shoes." (ancient Indian philosophy)

  • Debate the issue. Don't attack the person. Good, intelligent people have opposite opinions to yours. That doesn't make them any less valuable than you.

  • Speak without offending. Listen without defending. Before you say something, consider how the other will feel when hearing it. Speak the truth in the most polite way possible. Really listen to what the other has to say. You don't have to agree with them but give them the opportunity to say what's on their mind.

So let the debate continue. Maybe both sides can learn something from the other. Let's just all remember to maintain our dignity and respect.

Janet Pfeiffer is a "fresh voice" columnist for the Daily Record.

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