The Idea of Versus

By Courtney Bassett

Apple vs. Android. GIF vs JIF. Republican vs Democrat. We live in a society that perpetuates the idea of versus. We have all seen social media posts filled with comments in which individuals use a wide variety of expletives to describe why somebody else is the devil’s BFF and will live eternally with Hades. We all read the headlines that call certain beliefs or people tyrannical or dictator-esque. We have lost the ability to have an agreeable disagreement. Having the ability to express opinion without reprisal is a privilege and should be celebrated. Unfortunately, as a society, we have fallen short. Our society has moved beyond the point of being able to respect others’ opinion and, instead, demonize those who do not share the same viewpoints as us.

We live in a country that was born out of disagreement. Freedom of speech is one of our most valued freedoms. The Bill of Rights, one of the Country’s most sacred and prized documents, guarantees several freedoms to citizens of the United States. One of the first of these freedoms is the freedom of speech. The natural result of allowing people to think and voice their own opinions and ideas is disagreement. Living in 2021, the age of endless echo chambers, we value seeking out those who think like we do. These echo chambers present a significant challenge in having productive disagreements. The kind of disagreement that brings out the most disagreeable parts of each of us is becoming more and more familiar. At any given time, social media feeds, news headlines, and the comment sections are prime examples of name calling, bullying, and divisive propaganda. Examples include headlines like:

“Greg Gutfeld blasts Wapo’s ‘deep fake news’ after massive retraction in Trump-Georgia reporting”(Gutfeld fox news)

CDC Purges Trump Era Junk Guidance in Quest to Restore Reputation” (Maddow MSNBC) “Military Lowering Standards in the Name of Diversity”(Carlson Fox news)

Here is What this Vain and Selfish Man is Doing”(Cooper CNN)

These four headlines are just a brief sample of what we see in our news cycles. Unfortunately, headlines like this are becoming more and more normalized. These headlines are created to encourage you to harbor feelings of anger and fear toward those who do not hold the same opinion as you. Divisive headlines and stories hinder our ability to listen and to respect our fellow men, even when their ideas and beliefs differ from our own.

In a manifesto put forth by Eleanor Roosevelt, called the “Moral Basis of Democracy,” Roosevelt reminds readers of the need for tolerance towards others. She says that this tolerance is vital in maintaining a healthy and thriving democracy. It is unclear how being mean, disagreeable, and exclusionary lends to feelings of tolerance. Intolerance threatens the very systems and practices that make our democracy function. For example, on January 6th 2021, a riot besieged the United States Capitol building. This group firmly believed that a fair and free election had been manipulated to produce a specific outcome. In the name of patriotism and loyalty to their beliefs, they decided to ignore the results of investigations and judicial rulings which found that there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. They decided to try and stop Congress from ratifying the electoral votes for then President Elect Biden. The rioters forcibly entered the capitol building damaging property as well as rummaging through desks and offices. The way that these men and women chose to act on their beliefs led to the deaths of five Americans. They hindered the work of the government for several hours and changed security around the Capitol building forever.

The intolerance that these men and women had toward the ideology of then President Elect Biden and those that found no reason to believe there was fraud in the 2020 election only caused further division among a people that should be united. It should be noted that the attack on the United States Capitol building was carried out by a small group of people that are part of a larger group. According to a poll conducted by Quinnipac, 77% of republicans believe that the election was fraudulent. However, the  group of individuals we saw at the capitol building were just a small percentage of the 77% of republicans that believe there was fraud in the election. Only a small part of the people that believe that the election was fraudulent acted with  intolerance and lawlessness based on their beliefs. Others that believed the election was riddled with fraudulence voiced their beliefs and concerns with much more tolerance. In the wake of the election over 50 lawsuits were filed by President Trump and his allies in order to look into the alleged election fraud. Many have accepted the legal courses of action that were taken by President Trump and the Trump campaign to ensure every legal method was tried to clarify the issue. Whether they have accepted the outcomes of those legal cases is another matter, but many of those who still do not accept the results of the election continue to voice their dissent in a civil manner.

am a recreational scholar of the Supreme Court and the law. I’ve noticed that when I look for notable public figures in the Supreme Court, I find examples of those that exemplify tolerance and working agreeably with colleagues, despite their own political opinions. The Justices of the Supreme Court have a longstanding history of amiability. We do not hear Justices calling each other names, belittling their colleagues. There are beautiful friendships that exist despite differences in ideological beliefs. The most notable is the friendship of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late Justice Antoin Scalia. Although they had widely different perspectives when it came to adjudicating the law, they were known to attend the opera together, travel, and have family parties with one another. Justice Scalia once said of Justice Ginsburg, “What’s not to like, except her views on the law.”  Justice Ginsburg referred to Justice Scalia as her “best buddy” despite nearly always being on opposing sides of the law. The friendship of these two Justices stands as an ensign to the american people of fostering friendship with those who think differently than you or in other words disagreeing agreeably.

Justices Scalia and Ginsburg vacation together in India

When opposing sides are polarized to the point of exclusion and demonization we have reached a very dangerous place in society. Our focus needs to be less on our differences, and more on what we have in common. I know that this is just about the most overused cliche; nevertheless, it is necessary. Justice Gorsuch once said, “"...we need to remember that people with whom we disagree love this country as much as we do."” When we remember this, we allow ourselves to once again humanize those with whom we disagree. By humanizing those with whom we disagree, we can put an end to the bullying and name calling. How can we have agreeable disagreements in discussions with those we disagree? I believe there are three main things we can do to try to prevent disagreeableness.

First, be mindful of your intentions going into a discussion. If your sole purpose is to convert others to how you think, that is wrong. We need to remove the idea that one side is completely right and the other side is completely wrong. One should try to go into a conversation with an open mind. We live in a complex and nuanced world, and there is merit in ideas and ideology in almost any viewpoint. Had the Founding Fathers been totally unbending in ideologies, the Constitutional Convention would have ended in failure and frustration. However, they chose to merge ideas and beliefs together as best they could. This led to what is now known as the Great Compromise. It led to a House of Representatives and a Senate so that both large and small states would have better representation. We all need to put aside the desire to be right and focus on what we can agree on.

Second, keep your attitude in check. Be aware of how your tone and body language might be influencing the direction and atmosphere of the conversation. Try not to use a tone or words that indicate hostility, anger, or feelings of superiority. Using words and a tone that encourages discussion will lead to greater understanding and tolerance. Be mindful of not interrupting. Allow the other person to fully articulate what they believe. Interruptions can often feel like attacks on one’s belief or they can suggest a lack of equality between individuals. In addition to tone, body language, and vocabulary, we should bear in mind that most people, if not all, do not mean to offend. So when we feel offended we should do our best not to take it personally.

Third, ask questions, and seek common ground. This in no way means we should yield 100% to the ideals of someone else. We cannot ask that of ourselves nor should we ask it of others. However, we should seek to understand and learn how those around us think and feel. Very few times is a war of words won with a barrage of statistics and facts. When engaging in discussion it is important to try to find out why the opposing individual believes the way they do. Find out what experiences they have had that have led to their current beliefs or way of thinking. Learning and hearing about someone else’s experience in regards to one’s beliefs and ideologies can often create greater sympathy and understanding. This understanding and humanizing of the facts can make our fellow men seem more like us.

Imagine a world in which our political leaders listened, fostered friendship, and encouraged tolerance with their colleagues and constituents. I scarcely can. In my lifetime, I have known very few politicians who embody those attributes. I have heard many of them profess it then slander, bully, and use divisive language. Disagreements are bound to happen and should happen. The manner in how we disagree is what needs to be worked on. By disagreeing agreeably we allow for respect and tolerance to be the uniting factors of our nation. Justice Gorsuch said, “Isn’t civility just an outward sign that we accept the equality of the other person, that the other person is our equal and deserves the same treatment we want for ourselves?”

The views expressed in this guest article do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of The Civility Initiative. The purpose of guest articles is to to help our readers more fully understand and see current issues from as many different vantage points as possible.

About the Author: After graduating from Brigham Young University-Idaho with an associates degree in General Studies, Courtney became a full time mom, and a part-time cookie hustler. When she is not chasing a toddler around or baking she enjoys reading and studying the ideologies of Supreme Court Justices of the past and the present, but not the future.