This semester, I am taking a great class called History of Political Theory, taught by Dr. Richard Follett. (By the way, I highly recommend the class to any history, philosophy, or international studies major.) In one recent class meeting, we were discussing John Stuart Mill’s 1859 philosophical work,“On Liberty.” In one particular passage, Mill expounds upon the idea of freedom of opinion. Dr. Follett turned to the class and asked if we felt that we could express all of our opinions at Covenant or only a select few. The class had a mixed response—some believed they could share anything, some believed they couldn’t.
Ever since that class I have been reflecting on this. Do I feel comfortable sharing my opinions here? I had to conclude that the answer is no. There are things I believe in deeply that I do not think would be well received by the majority of the campus community. This is because too often when hot button topics are discussed, it comes across as an attack.
I have felt this myself since I have come to Covenant. Politically, my leanings are conservative—probably because I am an extremely black-and-white person and have a hard time dealing with the grey areas. I also grew up in a family who believed in the theological doctrine of free will—but I still believe God is sovereign. It’s complicated. On both of these issues, I know that not everyone on Covenant’s campus agrees with me. Yet when these topics come up in conversation, I often remain quiet. Why? Because when I do speak up, I feel attacked rather than heard and respected.
So how can we have a real conversation? First, we need to acknowledge that we are not one hundred percent right one hundred percent of the time. This is hard for me because I really like to be right, but at the same time I can acknowledge that I am definitely not right about every opinion I have. The same is true for every other person in this community.
Second, we need to acknowledge that none of us has the whole picture of how God views something. Even when we read or hear the same thing, we often come away with different interpretations. Our minds have different ideas, so why do we think we understand every aspect of every topic?
Third and finally, having a fruitful, meaningful conversation requires actively listening with an open mind, and having patience when someone is expressing a different view than the one you hold. As I said before, I have more conservative leanings, but my roommate has more liberal leanings. Even though we can have some extremely different ideas on a topic, we have good discussions because we are willing to hear the other person out. Yet there are too many people on both sides of any debate who assume that because a person doesn’t agree with them, they are stupid or less valuable. That is not the case; they just have a different viewpoint and they have reasons for that viewpoint.
I don’t know about you, but I came to Covenant to have hard conversations, not to be shut down because my view does not agree with the majority. We are all unique people with unique ideas and life would be nowhere near as exciting if we all agreed. I am not asking us all to agree on everything, but I am asking us to love each other the way Christ loves us. Let’s have conversations and not arguments. Let’s get closer to understanding each other. No one is stupid and we shouldn’t treat our brothers and sisters like they are just because they disagree with us.