College campuses around the country are diverse in ethnicity, educational experience and cultures. This atmosphere is one where new ideas can be developed, but where arguments arise and are addressed. At the center of these discussions is the one thing responsible for most conflicts: opinion. Everyone has one, and everyone is entitled to one, regardless of their background, knowledge of the subject or any other factor that may influence their eventual view on a subject.
Every opinion should, initially, be of equal value because every human is of equal value, a concept upon which the United States was ideally conceived. Those rights should include the right to an opinion and the right to not have that opinion be used against us as a judgment of character or intelligence. Having an opinion is different from acting on that opinion. For example, it is possible for someone to have an opinion rooted in hatred, but if that opinion doesn’t manifest itself in their actions, they should not be judged for simply thinking a certain way. In fact, it is this choice not to act on that opinion that is worth noting.
There are ways to express dissent with an opinion without making character judgments about the person with whom there is disagreement. With all of the movements about accepting who people are and the choices they make without judgment, there should be a movement to accept people regardless of their opinions. Again, I say, there is a distinct difference between having an opinion and acting on that opinion. Just as there is a difference between wanting and imagining that you are punching someone and actually punching them.
It is imperative that opinions be stated and heard in a certain way, to have a non-judgmental conversation. When listening to an opinion of another, it is important to listen completely with no interruption. I admit that, at times, anger and outrage are completely justified and the desire to react becomes all-consuming. When hearing an opinion that goes against your core beliefs, it is only natural to want to express anger. I am not advocating silence in the face of oppression or injustice. I am advocating an attempt at understanding, not the viewpoint, but the human voicing it. Just as you may be outraged at their opinion, they may be equally as outraged at yours. Both individuals are equally justified in feeling anger, and both are equally responsible for channeling that anger into a constructive conversation where neither party is judged for their thoughts. These conversations should be based on respect, not for the person as an individual or their opinions, but for the shared state of humanity.
While I have not had the same struggle of being judged that many people have been subjected to in their lives, and I cannot possibly understand how this may feel, I remember feeling an anger so deep that it would be a part of me forever because someone stated an opinion that I thought was unjustified and unbelievable. Weeks after this person had stated this opinion, and I cut off all contact with him, I realized that while he may have believed every word that he said, I never once saw him act upon that opinion in his behavior. I thought he was the most reprehensible human alive, yet he never said anything derogatory to anyone, nor did his actions indicate his opinion in any way. In fact, had the discussion not come up in an academic setting and his opinion been directly solicited, I would not have known he thought that way.
The deliberate process of acting upon an opinion should be the basis upon which judgment should be made. It is just like sending a student to the Honor Council because he thinks it is okay to cheat on an exam, even though he never actually cheated on anything in his life. While he might think it is acceptable to cheat, he never did anything wrong. It is on that choice that a judgment of character should be made.
Everyone is a combination of their life experiences and circumstances. It is impossible to control who raised you, where they did it and what life circumstances into which you were born. When someone expresses a view that is the polar opposite of your own or an opinion that is thought to be completely wrong, it is their right to have that opinion. It is not their right to try to force that opinion on others through their actions or words. It is not their right to act upon that opinion to the detriment of others, just as it is not your right to attempt to suppress their opinion simply because you don’t agree.
Simply put, no one can control their background and the beliefs with which they were surrounded by during their youth. What people can control is their response to these thoughts that pop up in their head. We should judge, not on thought, but on action. Everyone has an equal opportunity to act, not everyone has an equal opportunity to become aware of the plethora of opinions and issues in this world.
â€” Alli Buettner is a College sophomore from St. Louis, Missouri.