One of the best things about college is that you’re exposed to so many different kinds of people with different life experiences. This makes a college environment all the more of an awesome learning experience. Of course, there are times when your opinions and beliefs will conflict with those of other students—it’s basically unavoidable. But even though disagreeing with people is a completely understandable part of human interactions, it’s important to learn how to disagree respectfully.
I have witnessed times in common rooms, dining halls, classrooms, and even on social media when two people don’t see eye to eye on something and start personally attacking each other. That ruins all the learning that can come from a disagreement, and it just makes people feel, well, bad. So how do we maintain a sense of civility and respect in campus discussions, especially in an election year when emotions can get out of control?
Step into their shoes
It often helps to try to see things through the other person’s eyes. Understand that your classmates have been raised in a wide range of religious, political, and moral upbringings—all factors that can affect their opinions. Some people haven’t been given the same information you’ve been given. In addition, students may have gone through personal, maybe even painful, experiences that have impacted their beliefs. You never really know.
It’s incredibly important to respect the fact that everyone comes from different walks of life and has the right to their own opinion. I’m not saying you have to agree with them, but it’s definitely worth it to see where they are coming from. Ask thoughtful, non-judgmental questions. Then…
Sure, there will be some people who will steamroll over you, not letting you speak. But you might be surprised by what you learn if you just stop and listen. Really listen. You want them to listen to you, right? It all comes back to the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated!
Think before you speak
In the college atmosphere, there can be times when students are so passionate about an issue that they forget about the weight words can carry. It’s always good to take a moment to process your thoughts in your head before you express them.
Assess the situation. Ask yourself, “Could my words end up hurting someone?” If the answer is yes, then you should think about what you want to convey and how you should rephrase it more respectfully. Also remember that sometimes, we can feel so offended by another person’s words that we want to offend them right back. That’s a human response—but don’t let it get the best of you.
If you’re expressing your opinion about something in an open, honest, and informed manner, then you should absolutely speak your mind. But always consider how you can use your words and tone to start a real conversation with someone, not throw accusations in their face.
It’s a conversation, not a fight
One thing I’ve learned in my time as a student college is that academic writing is a conversation. It’s not just about regurgitating or tearing down another writer’s thoughts and words. What it’s really about is dialogue, with give and take. This idea has definitely impacted how I feel about all types of discussions.
Whether it happens online, in a classroom, or at dinner, all discussions should be a true back and forth—not one side waiting for their turn to speak. This may seem so simple, but it’s easy for people to forget. You should value your own unique perspective on the world and important issues, but you should also do the same for your fellow classmates. When discussions are heated and aggressive, listening to the other side is often difficult. But debatable topics do not have to be bipolar fights. If we look at these discussions as civil dialogues, we are more inclined to actually learn something because we are listening and maintaining respect for the other side.
There is no point in trying to “win” against someone over a topic that you share opposite viewpoints on. However, there is value in listening and understanding their perspective, acknowledging how your opinions differ, commenting if there is anything you do agree on, and asking questions to continue the conversation.