April 22

How should people with differing moral frameworks approach each other?

It is often difficult for passionate people to carry on a conversation with those whom they disagree with without tempers flaring. Furthermore, a lot of ethical issues have the ability to turn the meekest of people into passionate defenders. Passion can be good; it fights apathy and indifference, helps maintain the energy needed for change, inspires brilliant rhetoric, and pushes moral standards to new heights. There are however, dangers as well. Passion can blind people to the truth and lead to fanaticism. It can also shut down lines of communication (it is difficult to truly listen when you and your opponent are both yelling). How do you avoid the bad implications of passion and still keep the good stuff?

One of the most important things to remember when trying to argue a point is respect for your opponent.

This is more than just refraining from name calling or vilifying your opponent. True respect involves the acknowledgement that the other side has something to say. It is easy to not really listen to the other side because you believe it to be wrong. It is infinitely harder to truly listen to people you believe to be wrong. It is even harder to grant that people who you believe to be wrong have something worthwhile to bring to the table. Remembering not only that the people with whom you disagree have a right to disagree with you but also that they have something legitimate to say helps to counter the effects of being blind to passion and reduces conflict.

The acknowledgement that the other side has something to say is the acknowledgement that even the most outrageous belief comes from a human being with a certain mindset and background. Making an earnest effort to determine why someone holds the belief she does is the second thing to remember. This 'why' takes into consideration not only the justification for the belief but also the life experiences that lead a person to hold that belief. It’s easier to argue against someone if you know where she is coming from and taking the time to figure this out is a sign of respect. Caring about the why is an acknowledgment that your opponent is not simply wrong and stupid (a mind-set that you can easily fall into and tends to be the mind-set of fanatics) but that she has something to say and a right to say it.

Truly listening to the other side might mean you learn something. Being open to education can be a lot more difficult than it seems. When we let arguments from our opponents refine and sometimes change our own beliefs it feels a lot like giving in and no one likes to admit that they might have been wrong about something. However, it is important to remember moral consideration is a process. The development of your ideas is not caving but rather the strengthening of your belief system. Just as the transition from child to adult is frightening but necessary so to is the constant refining of a belief system.

Two people who differ about an issue that they feel passionate about are going to be in conflict. Conflict however, can be good. As long as you approach the other side with respect and an open mind about their beliefs and your own the downside to conflict can be avoided. What you are left with is healthy conflict that raises awareness and brings you closer to the truth.

Mary Cloutier,