Being Respectful in FA Political Discourse: An Honest Discussion with Our Seniors

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In the past few months at Friends Academy, student life has become increasingly political, most likely a result of the upcoming election. While it is educationally great that students have taken an avid interest in politics, it has created dissension among Friends students. Whether it is through social media or yelling matches in classrooms, the political activism at Friends has disrupted the Quaker fundamentals the school was founded upon.

 Although it is completely natural for students to have varying ideas and opinions, it is unnatural in our community to have such acrimony. The real division seems less about politics, and more about the disrespect that has been carried into political discussions, including a reluctance to hear the opposition. The students in our community have chosen to close their ears when presented with any disagreement with their beliefs. But can the disrespect be taken out of politics, or do the two go hand and hand?

From my experience in the Friends Academy senior class, political conversation does not have to involve disrespect or hostility. Although we the senior class have not always been squeaky clean in our political discussions, many of us have learned how to engage in political discourse without disrespect. I have interviewed several volunteers from the senior class who frequently take part in respectful political discourse. In these interviews, I have asked them questions about dealing with people whose political beliefs differ from their own; I have also asked questions about their backgrounds and personal political beliefs. I think it is important to put forth these political beliefs because many Friends Academy students are unaware of “the other side.” 

What I ask from you is that you keep an open mind while reading these interviews and keep respect in the back of your mind in all political discussions. Here are some of the responses from seniors who frequently take part in respectful political discussions:

*The responses of the seniors have been changed grammatically, but no meaning has been changed*

Senior 1

When did you get involved in politics?

Probably at the start of 9th Grade. Obama was recently elected. There was a lot of discussion on why the students liked or disliked Obama and I was interested in establishing my own arguments by reading material from both the right and the left to form my own opinion. Talking to my dad, who is knowledgeable on current events, also helped shaped my views.

What party do you identify which?

Republican Party, Moderate.

What candidate are you rooting for?

Donald Trump. I think Trump is no different than the other politicians who play to the base in the primary and will run to the center if nominated. I think that Trump does not believe 90% of what he says. In fact, he has traditionally been a conservative democrat. His success in the business world is testament to his leadership abilities, which include the ability to listen to others, a strength for a presidential candidate and a sign of humility. There is no way he could make all these deals if he didn’t listen to what others had to say. To be a successful president, you need to be confident in your beliefs, but still listen to others and respect others in order to reach a deal. Politics is about making deals.

How do you handle people whose beliefs conflict with your own?

I first learn the arguments on both sides, meaning the arguments on the right and the arguments on the left, covering all different issues. If I do not have a conviction on that issue, I tend not to engage in the debate. It is also important to let the other person speak. Do not interrupt the person if they disagree with you. Maybe there’s some merit to what they have to say and that may shape my own beliefs.

How do you handle people that are disrespectful of your beliefs?

I try to stay out of political fights, but I’ve seen a lot of people be dismissive of my beliefs. In general, it’s always good to be respectful of the other person, even if they are disrespectful or dismissive. It’s about taking the high road and not making a judgment on someone else's character based on their political ideology.

What is a legitimate argument and what is an illegitimate argument?

A legitimate argument is one that’s grounded in reason and supported by reliable facts. An illegitimate argument is basing your argument off of only feelings not reason.

What role do you believe political correctness plays in politics, if any?

There’s got to be a baseline degree of political correctness. That baseline right now is too high. I think we get caught up in the words that someone is saying and lose sight of the message behind them. Candidates should present themselves diplomatically, but the sensationalist media is too harsh in their critiquing of political correctness.

What issues would you like to see our Government reform/deal with in the near future?

Immigration reform. It is too hard to be an American citizen. It takes too long and then people are forced to come illegally. Loosening the environmental regulations in the US to help the economy. Regulations specifically on oil drilling and fracking should be loosened. The salary for congressmen should be higher. Lobbying firms take advantage of the fact that congressmen don’t get paid enough.

Any final thoughts?

I think in political discussions, people need to be more mindful of what is being said and not be so fixed in their opinions.

Senior 2

When did you get involved in politics?

I would say I developed political beliefs last year as I started to read more articles. I got further involved this year when I got more involved in AP Government.

What party do you identify with?

I identify with the Republican Party.

What role do you believe political correctness plays in politics, if any?

I think it is becoming increasingly valued in the political world, but I think we can see from this election that there are a lot of people who do not agree with it. Donald Trump ran an election that was very un-PC, and a lot of people identified with that.

What candidate are you rooting for?

Marco Rubio. I think he would be a good face for the Republican Party and he appeals to a lot of people. He’s young, a good speaker, and a good senator of Florida. I agree with him on a lot of issues, and in general he was the candidate that I saw representing the Republican Party the best.

Will you support the likely Republican Nominee, Donald Trump?

Yes.

How do you handle people whose beliefs conflict with your own?

Going into a discussion with an open mind is important. By going into a discussion with an open mind you can understand other people’s opinions, avoid name-calling, stick to the facts, and respect each side. I try to see both sides by watching Fox News and MSNBC so I can be educated on both sides of an argument. I think when conflict comes is when people don' have the facts and start calling each other names. Both sides want what's best for the country but we both have a difference of opinion on how to get there. I think that's important to recognize. People go into conversations thinking "oh that person's “bad”. They aren't bad; it's just we go about doing what's best for the country differently.

How do you handle people that are disrespectful of your beliefs?

I think that's a very tough question. For me, as well as many other people, my first instinct is always to defend myself and act defensively. This is something I've definitely been trying to get better at. I've tried to counteract this through just trying to use factual information to defend myself when attacked. This keeps me from acting disrespectfully back, while also showing how I feel. Overall, it;s always a tough situation to be spoken to in a disrespectful manner but I think it's just important to have thick skin and to always provide a concrete counter argument.

What is a legitimate argument and what is an illegitimate argument?

A legitimate argument is one that's backed up with evidence, facts, statistics, or quotes. A Legitimate argument is important in having a healthy discussion because you need all of what you say to be valid so that you are not just resorting to name-calling. An illegitimate argument would be, for example, just calling Donald Trump racist or sexist and a legitimate argument would be giving evidence proving why. I see a lot of people on the Internet just labeling Donald Trump as racist, but when asked why they can't give any concrete evidence as to why they are calling him racist or sexist. I think that shows a serious flaw in their argument.

What issues would you like to see our Government reform/deal with in the near future?

The economy is a big one. If you look at Bernie Sanders you can see there’s a big push towards raising taxes and free college so kids can have more opportunities in the real world. And then there's the other side, people wanting to maintain or lower the current tax level. I would like to see the current tax level lowered.

Foreign Policy. It’s always changing depending on what’s happening in the world especially with current immigration.

Any final thoughts?

I am a big believer in providing factual information and being very well educated on issues. In reality, as much as the school likes to restrict political discussions and prevent disagreement, those discussions will never be gone. People need to listen to both sides, know both sides and understand both perspectives. In AP Government, we’ve really been learning how to go into conversations knowing different perspectives. I think this will help me next year as well as in the rest of my life.

Senior 3

When did you get involved in politics:

I got first interested in politics 2 years ago. I don’t know why specifically, I think it wasjust on the news more often.

What party do you identify with?

No party.

Which candidate are you rooting for?

Jill Stein from the Green Party. In the coming years I believe the environment is going to be a pressing issue. It is the most human issue we have.

How do you handle people whose beliefs conflict with your own?

I try to explain why I think I’m right, but when it's more of an opinionated question you kind of have to say all right, that’s your opinion.

What is a legitimate argument and what is an illegitimate argument?

A legitimate argument is based on facts or some opinion. An illegitimate argument is when you have facts and studies that prove your preconceived argument.

What role do you believe political correctness play in politics, if any?

I think it makes it a lot harder to have a serious discussion about sensitive topics. Not from a bad place but people want to be respectful about things just so their image isn’t hurt, but it doesn't help being proactive about issues.

What would you like to see our Government change/deal with in the near future?

Nuclear disarmament. The collateral damage from ever having to use them would be crazy. 

The environment. The earth is our only home; we don’t have another planet to jump to.

Senior 4

When did you get involved in politics?

When I took AP Government this year. I didn’t know anything before the class!

What role do you believe political correctness plays in politics, if any?

It plays a role in how politicians carefully choose their words to make sure they don’t offend anyone and lose votes in the election. I's a positive and negative. You can't be say things that are blatantly racist or sexist, but if you are too correct you won't get anything done. It leads to avoiding problems and being afraid to say anything.

What party do you identify with?

I guess I identify with the Democratic Party but I wouldn’t say I am a hardcore democrat.

What candidate are you rooting for?

I am not really a fan of any of them. But if Bloomberg were a candidate I would love to vote for him. I think Bloomberg is a good merge between the parties. Maybe this is just because I live in New York, but in my experience, when people hear Bloomberg, they like him. And when both parties like a candidate it doesn’t completely polarize everyone. Hillary is controversial but I guess I’ll vote for Hillary. She’s going to be the democratic nominee and I’d pick her over Trump. Kasich was also someone I felt that wouldn’t polarize the parties as much, but he has dropped out of the race.

How do you handle people whose beliefs conflict with your own?

If you disagree you disagree. I try to listen to other people; I try to listen to where they come from. I will try to get them to see my point of view, but I’m not going to shoot them.

How do you handle people that are disrespectful towards your beliefs?

I really can't tolerate people being disrespectful. I just think it's so unnecessary. It's just another divide between two people and it's a harder boundary to get over then just beliefs. As a minority, I’ve heard people talk and say things that just come out of a place of ignorance, and that’s offensive to me.

What is a legitimate argument and what is an illegitimate argument?

And illegitimate argument would be basing arguments strictly on the Bible. There’s something in the Bible that says any woman who isn't a virgin before marriage must be executed. It’s just not practical to get your political beliefs from any religion. A legitimate argument would come from someone who actually knows what he or she is talking about and is well read—someone who can base beliefs on concrete evidence.

What issues would you like to see our Government change/deal with in the near future?

There are so many issues. I guess abortion-related issues. That’s something that has been going on for a while. We need to come to a place of a yes or no. There's a lot of gray area in abortion, but it’s a very polarizing issue that we need to come to terms with.

Gay marriage is one, but I feel like people are just not used to it. We might want to figure out what we are doing in the Middle East, but that's a very complicated long-term plan.

The way Muslims are treated in this country as of now really needs to be fixed.

Senior 5

When did you get involved in politics?

I’ve been interested in politics since I was very young. I remember debating who should be our next president in 4th grade. I think a lot of my interest in politics comes from an empathetic place. From caring about people and caring about the world and caring about the solutions to issues. Those solutions are most often political in nature. Politics often provides structure to solutions.

What party do you identify with?

Green Party/Democratic Socialist.

What candidate are you rooting for?

I am rooting for Bernie Sanders for multiple reasons. To just focus on one he is the one candidate that has talked about climate change, the single biggest threat we face on the planet right now. I know he will be on the right side of all the social issues that I care deeply about.

Will you support the likely Democratic Nominee, Hillary Clinton?

Yes.

How do you handle people whose beliefs conflict with your own?

I respectfully engage in conversation and ask questions so I know where they are coming from. If I sense they are interested in learning more about my side, I try to explain my logic in a non-condescending manner. I try not to force my opinions on others.

How do you handle people who are disrespectful towards your views?

Sometimes I’ll try to talk to them about why that was disrespectful. Sometimes you have to understand that people have very strong opinions on beliefs for a variety of reasons and backing off can sometimes be the best approach.

What is a legitimate argument and what is an illegitimate argument?

A legitimate argument is one that includes facts, research, and a well-rounded argument on the issue. An illegitimate argument comes from feelings or one particular case study. I also think legitimate arguments are best formed when you fully understand both sides of an issue.

What role do you believe political correctness plays in politics, if any?

I think Political Correctness plays an important role when it comes to respecting people's backgrounds and beliefs. I don' think Political Correctness should keep people from expressing their opinions, but I think people can find a way to express them that is politically correct.

What issues would you like to see our Government reform/deal with in the near future?

I want to see plans and reforms to move towards green energy. Climate change reform. Equality: racial equality, gender equality, LGBTQ+ equality, welfare, and access to education.

Any final thoughts?

It’s important to recognize that coming from a place of educational and economic privilege there are some issues that we can't fully understand because we don’t know them. And it is important to be aware of that and educate yourself on issues that aren’t close to you. As much as you may know that you are right, the other person feels the same way. Learning about someone else's point of view without getting angry can be a great learning experience. Don’t assume you know everything: assume you know nothing.

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Given my experience in this high-tension election year, I believe that students are doing themselves a big disservice because we are young and still shaping our views. While you may not agree with 99% of what someone is saying, the 1% may resonate with you. And even if it doesn’t, it is important to understand what other people think because we live in a big, diverse world that is full of contradictions.

 

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