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Letter from the Editor >> Opinion

Respectful Disagreement: A Forgotten Art that You Need to Remember

Welcome to College! From here on out, some people are going to disagree with you on everything from your basic human rights to the existence of a god or gods above (or below or in any number of alternate realities). People will probably at one point or another call you and your beliefs stupid, ignorant, selfish, overprivileged, underprivileged, arrogant, incompetent, biased, ridiculous, overly misogynistic, overly feministic, racist, silly and / or straight up dumb. But that’s why you came here — to learn. Passing through the milieu of compelling and controversial opinions floating around a large university can be a trial by fire, from which you can emerge more educated about the perspectives of your fellow humans and confident in the legitimacy of your own ideas.

Each person who calls you out on something is giving you a chance to do one of two things, 1) react from an emotional place that hates to be challenged or disagreed with or 2) accept that you are not perfect and take their criticism as an opportunity to see the flaws in yourself. It’s much easier to do the first, because it feels good to stick it to someone, but where does that get anybody?

We talk about large conflicts on this campus, and many of us do more than talk. Divestment from companies supporting certain Israeli actions, questioning the right of political candidates and professors to hold official positions at UCSB, debating the extent to which areas outside the classroom should be governed and protected by Isla Vistans… all these issues and more will continue to spark protest and debate this year.

So now you’ve gotten into a shouting match with your neighbor because he’s in favor of fracking … Have you learned anything new? Gained any new viewpoints on the matter? Perhaps found a way to strengthen your argument? Chances are that, no you have not. What you have done is made a fool of yourself, poorly represented the group for which you argue and alienated a potential friend with whom you could have had an academic discussion to benefit you both.

Respectful disagreement is not easy, but it is arguably the most important thing you will learn here at UCSB. If you want to be a leader in anything in this world, diplomacy is going to be crucial. The reason that politics, international affairs and now, even student affairs are such a mess, is that people feel personally attacked when something they believe is challenged. It’s human nature to retaliate against a perceived challenge, but it’s also human nature to poop anywhere on the ground — yet, somehow, we overcame the second part.

Respectful disagreement does not mean silencing your own intuitions about moral and immoral policy, and it does not mean censoring the sincerity of your personal experiences. What we need as growing, often opposing thinkers is to hear the truth of what it is like to have family members deported, or property taken away, or hard-earned money lost. One of the most important skills people of a rational society need to gain is the ability to entertain and understand an argument without feeling the need to disparage and vilify it. Letting others know you really can appreciate their point of view, but disagree for compelling reasons, will ensure in most cases that you all can remain cordial at least while still being challenged by each other’s ideas.

Realize that your views are not perfect, not refined and definitely full of holes that you would never see unless someone pointed them out to you. Take each “attack” as you would take each correction that someone makes on an essay you ask them to read — use it for what it’s worth and politely reject it if it does not work for you.

You will definitely be party to a wide variety of disagreements here on campus and out in the “real world” and you can either help find a solution by working with those who see differently than you, or you can do what most people do and yell back, twice as loud. Set yourself apart and work with your critics to find solutions instead of win arguments.

Your “enemies” are your best friends, because they will tell you exactly what you need to work on and where your shortcomings are. If it hurts to be criticized, work on that, because it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

Welcome to college!

Emile Nelson and Suzanne Becker are Opinion Co-Editors.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students
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Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB.
Opinions are submitted primarily by students.


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5 Responses to Respectful Disagreement: A Forgotten Art that You Need to Remember

  1. B. Gonzalez

    October 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

    I don’t see any questions, but I won’t let that distract me. I judge by your anonymity that you are one of the privileged majority, so you are perhaps unaware of the definition of privilege. This ignorance and the feeling of entitlement to be educated and answered are all privileges that privileged people possess. You should thank me for taking time out of my day to educate you.

    If you systematically benefit from inequalities in access to resources and power available to you solely because of morally-arbitrary factors, such as being a white man, and are in the majority in a society where white men (most of whom are also straight, the gender they were assigned at birth, able-bodied, neuro-typical, and highly educated) almost exclusively control political and economic positions of power, in a culture where white men attempt to speak over and for women of color and all other marginalized people, then you are one of the privileged few. Congratulations. You didn’t do anything to deserve your respected place in society and all the benefits it brings. You get to benefit from this systemic inequality without having to lift a finger.

    As for the newspaper, I agree that it should be for everyone. But the thing it should provide everyone is the truth, not merely the self-delusions of its tone-policing, privileged members.

  2. B. Gonzalez

    October 11, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Criticism does not have only informational content. There is some information that is not accessible from a single point of subjective experience, no matter how many opinions you consider. I’m talking about privilege.

    When many people with different relative power according to privilege get into a discussion where the rules of conversation are formalized in the way you suggest, the relatively privileged majority drowns out the marginalized minority. Even if every opinion is given equal weight, the sheer number of privileged opinions that get expressed and reinforced are sufficient to effectively silence marginalized minorities.

    For ideas to actually be considered with equal weight, the privileged need to step down and be silent. Tone-policing the marginalized minority in a situation that structurally benefits the privileged majority is itself an abuse of privilege.

    • Respectful Disagreement

      October 13, 2014 at 9:36 pm

      B. Gonzalez, abuse of privilege is a serious problem in society, no doubt, but I think you have failed to realize what you are saying and it’s hidden by language that is meant to be respectful, but is actually dancing around the issue.

      You brought up privilege, so let’s talk about that.

      You said: “For ideas to actually be considered with equal weight, the privileged need to step down and be silent.”

      Define “privileged” for me and now replace the word privileged in that statement you made with the definition you have come up with.

      Now think about what a newspaper is and what it’s role in the community is and who it is for.

      For me, the newspaper is for the community and the community is everyone.

      • Respectful Disagreement

        October 13, 2014 at 9:37 pm


        My apologies on such a horrendous typo. Please do not let it distract you from my question. :-)

        • B. Gonzalez

          October 15, 2014 at 1:02 am

          See above for reply.