We want our voices heard, but are we willing to listen to other voices and engage with concern for who the people are whether we agree with them or not?
Considering this made me think of three Ds that are important to making democracy function: dialogue, debate, and dissent. The degree of freedom in creating conversations, making our point and deciding whether or not to disagree determines the freedom we’re allowed in society.
After detailing, I’ll share my thoughts on the impact of social media versus the old-fashioned method of writing an opinion letter to the local newspaper editor.
Communication is critical to understanding each other and airing or sharing our views and frustrations in a constructive way. Think of this in a family setting where one child can express herself well while a sibling can’t find the words to say.
Who’s bound to get the most frustrated?
In my family, I noticed that those who can speak their mind are best suited for communicating without getting frustrated or eventually exploding. Conversations, or having a dialogue, are great ways to share viewpoints and opposing viewpoints without accompanying trauma and destruction.
Dialogue is an interaction, not a monologue. One person, or one side, speaks, makes a point and allows the other side to speak.
It’s a friendly, respectful conversation where differing viewpoints are allowed to air and the result is that people who hold opposing views can come to terms in order to exist side by side.
Enough quality conversation can reduce the need for the more emotional and tense aspect of communicating — debates.
Debate becomes necessary during decision making times and a final agreement has to be reached on a topic. We’re used to this in the political realm but debate happens in our workplaces, homes and during our sports contests.
Emotions rise because more is at stake.
We don’t just want our voices heard, we want our voices to prevail. A quality debate gives time for rebuttal and even those who get the decision made in their behalf can return to reflect on their positions and that takes a great amount of humility.
Debate is different than force since persuasion is necessary.
So what happens with those who don’t prevail? We have to give them space to continue with their opinions or dissent.
Dissent. I don’t agree with you and I’m going to speak my mind.
How do you feel about dissent — especially when it’s someone else who is dissenting? Do you want to silence them or will you respect their disagreement?
It’s easy to have a non-threatening dialogue while debate raises the stakes. I believe dissent tests us and our functioning as a free society.
If you aren’t free to dissent, then you’re not free.
The Three Ds for Creatives
Creative voices are prone to dissent from the prevailing majority and that’s okay, especially if we communicate in a way that’s meant to inspire, uplift and persuade others to take a thoughtful approach to the issues we’re sharing.
Responsible dissent can make audiences think and ponder someone else’s point of view.
We have to trust ourselves and society with dissenting opinions. If we squash them in order to prevent them, then we’re acting and responding in fear.
In our contemporary world, we’re often divided along world views of Left and Right. I wonder how much we really understand what those terms mean?
As I considered this, I thought about the late Nat Hentoff and his book from 1992, Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other.
Hentoff was a leading free speech voice who was fired as an editor of Down Beat magazine in New York City. He was fired in 1957 for trying to hire an African-American writer.
His writings and thoughts surfaced in one of my college speech courses and I could tell he truly cared about the state of free speech in the U.S. and Canada. He didn’t only care about speech that lifted up his side.
Social media versus letters to the editor
Social media platforms open up the act of speech and communication, but the problem is the trigger-finger responses lead to rants that usually include insults. We want to respond now, immediately and we don’t care about the other voices — we only want to prevail.
I’m on Twitter and it’s sad to see how little actual debate is able to take place despite the vast number of tweets. Compare that with the old days of writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper.
You read an article or wanted to respond to an issue. You wrote by hand or typed out a letter and the very act made you think and form your thoughts. It took some effort and you had to articulate your views.
Now, there’s no need to articulate. I believe social media has damaged our ability to dialogue, debate and dissent because insults fly rapidly and then we can block those who disagree with us.
I believe that’s damaging.
If we win a debate are we still willing to engage dissenting voices? If so, that’s good for democracy. If those who prevail in dialogue, win the debate and then suppress dissent always get their way then society will suffer an imbalance in opinion and we’ll stop learning from each other.
At that point, our democracy will be truly threatened and so will our ability to communicate and create the messages that are inside of us. When we can’t share those messages, then frustrations build and eventually literal or figurative explosions take place.
Let’s commit to allowing dialogue, debate and dissent to ensure a society that’s free for expression.