Disagreeing key to sharpening ideological arguments

Editor’s note: The last paragraph of Megan Graham’s column was not printed in Sunday’s Opinion section. The column is printed here in full.

Hanging around with people who agree with you has its advantages. It makes choosing movies or figuring out dinner plans a snap, and provides necessary comfort when you are the victim of some injustice or indignity. Your righteousness is affirmed and your wounds heal faster for it.

Like-mindedness is also a particularly effective means of fortifying one another’s ideology. When you provide supporting data and enthusiastic endorsement of my position, then it must be right.

As affirming – and necessary – as it is to have plenty of people who agree with you in your life, there is much to be said for the value of divergent discourse. Without a contrary viewpoint to counter once in a while, your arguments risk going soft.

I happen to be lucky in this regard. In addition to spending my off-hours with a committed contrarian with whom I have the “opportunity” to sharpen my arguments for a given point of view, my colleagues and I share an affinity for debate and discussion that allows each of us to air our respective positions and then requires us to defend them under one another’s scrutiny. Despite what some might say about the Herald editorial board’s political position – and the criticisms range from unabashedly liberal to offensively conservative – it is one hewn from a spectrum of information and arguments that has been known to change one or more minds among us. It doesn’t always.

That interest in debate and discussion is the motivation behind the public editorial board meetings that the Herald is hosting, and if the first session is any indication, the meetings provide a lively forum. They also serve as a reminder of how easily polarized we can become. Put two people and one issue in a room and, likely as not, two completely different positions will emerge.

The inaugural meeting covered the Durango City Council election results, school finance in Colorado and federal-immigration policy. In each of these areas, the 12 people in attendance had strong viewpoints, but that did not prevent lively discussion nor respectful consideration of other positions. There was a range of expertise and interests, too, that informed the discussion beyond ideology. As much a hot button issue as immigration can be, the conversation was tempered somewhat by stories about working-class immigrant families whose children, through education and military service, were able to transcend the opportunities of their parents; or about the influence of immigrants, in the United States via the H1B program to encourage immigration among those specialized skills, on Silicon Valley’s innovation and technological advances.

Same with education. While some in attendance were committed to the concept of local control in determining school curriculums, others – professionals in education, past and present – broadened the discussion with stories about various states’ experiences with school funding scenarios, other factors in student success including socioeconomics, as well as the value of a wide-ranging set of education options that includes college preparation as well as vocational training.

While minds may not have changed during the conversation, there was respectful discussion and genuine consideration of divergent positions. That is an important start, and a critical component in reaching compromise – and therefore action – at the policy level. As one participant said, ours has become an “all-or-nothing society,” a scenario that has resulted in “just barely” governing. To move from that all-but-dysfunctional place requires at least listening to others’ points of view – and then defending your own with sound support. Stepping outside the echo chamber every once in awhile is an important exercise – often informative, frequently entertaining and occasionally transformative. Thanks to those who attended the Herald’s first public editorial board session; our next meeting will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Lost Dog Bar & Lounge, 1150 Main Ave.

Megan Graham is a Herald editorial writer and policy analyst. Reach her at meg@durangoherald.com.

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