Another semester ends at college for me this week.
To some this statement is a blessing and welcomed with open arms. However, for me, it’s truly sad. Why? Because class provides one of the best platforms for discussion I have ever had the privilege of standing on.
Mainly, I get bored talking about things like the Jersey Shore (I’ve never seen it so it’s hard for me to discuss… other than my blind resentment of it) and who did what at the bar the previous night, and although I have a core group of friends who I can discuss things with, I think one of the biggest faults of our society is that we have lost the art form that is discussion.
Now you would think that social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter would have helped rectify this problem giving that they provide a base for communication no matter the distance between two, but I have found that typically people use these as a platform to promote themselves (I am guilty) or argue to the point of mocking rather than an actual discussion (my recent “fight” on Facebook being a prime example).
A teacher of mine from this semester told me that it was obvious I thrived on discussion and that I had a passion for it. He said when someone announced an opposing position on a topic that he could see my eyes “light up,” and I think to a certain degree he is absolutely correct. I thrive on opinion: mine, someone else’s, and yours. It is the opposing opinion that makes your opinion worth validating. Otherwise opinion would just be an idea that everyone shared, and folks…
The beautiful thing about opinion is that all are equal (well, most). But truth be told, an opinion is uniquely yours and from the get go worthy of respect. Then taking those independent opinions and discussing them and watching them blend is one of the most awesome things in the world. Well, to me anyway.
The problem is our society has forgotten how to discuss.
Politicians don’t discuss politics. News reporters don’t discuss news. Baseball players don’t discuss baseball. And we? We discuss nothing.
Opinions are stated as facts. They are shouted at one another in a frenzy to speak.
On October 16, 1854 in Illinois Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held a debate. Douglas addressed the audience first and his initial address was three hours long. Lincoln of course, was expected to respond and he announced to the audience that since he would take as much time, if not more, and it was already five p.m. that the people attending should go home, eat dinner, rest up and, return because there was at least another four more hours of talk. The people agreed (Postman, 44)!
This would not happen in our society today. If two people who were not even running for presidency (as was the case with Douglas and Lincoln at that time), asked us to go home, freshen up, and then return for a debate that would last possibly seven or eight hours, we would complain. (In fact, most speakers were given at least three hours to express their opinion and the objecting opinion was given an equal amount of time back in the day.) Neil Postman suggested in 1985 that we lost debates such as these because our media shifted to entertain, and although I agree with him, I would like to add onto what he hinted at; our society has lost the talent of discussion. Maybe because of media; maybe not.
So world, I implore you: If you have an opinion; speak. When someone speaks; listen.
Every opinion has an equal chance to change the world or even, (dare I say it?) your mind.
Stop shouting and discuss.
Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Penguin, 2006. Print. (Great book. Read it!)