The Freedom Not to Agree
I remember Sunday afternoons at my maternal grandparents’ house. All the aunts, uncles and cousins were there, and while we kids played games, we also listened to the adults. Our relatives had a wonderful time arguing. There were a lot of opinionated folks in our family, and not one of them was afraid to talk. Vehemently debating the issues of the day was my family’s favorite hobby. Voices were often raised, and once in a while someone would jump up to dramatically make a point, which, of course, was immediately challenged. But no one ever stomped angrily out of the room, broke a piece of furniture, or threw a punch or a tantrum, and no one ever called anyone else “stupid.”
Violence and law-breaking are not forms of argument and disagreement. These acts are inexcusable, illegal and punishable. What I miss is the safe expression of opinions and the belief that we don’t all have to agree. Even if I’m sure that I’m right, it’s OK if you don’t think I am. A thoughtful woman down the block told me she’s “a doubter” about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. I did my best to convince her to get inoculated, and she explained her reasons. Neither of us was satisfied with the opposing view, but we listened and we were polite.
During the last year, I’ve heard brutal and cruel remarks coming from all corners. Two friends who have been through hell and high water together decided that opposing political views are more important than their relationship of more than 30 years. An intelligent fellow I know has taken to calling anyone who disagrees with him “an idiot” or even worse. One of those “idiots” has vowed to never speak to his old friend again. Those two men had been in each other’s wedding party.
Here’s how I want to be treated: Go ahead and dismiss my opinion, if you have the urge, but don’t dismiss me. I’ll happily return the favor. And remember, our kids are listening.
Chana Shapiro is an AJT columnist.