In this day, age and era, everyone is increasingly voicing their opinion on various events & topics as they continue to unfold on a daily, both on the local and international scene. Issues that were simply swept under the carpet decades ago can no longer go unnoticed or unaddressed. With the emergence of free speech and vocal advocacy social media, there has been substantial debate and conversations that have driven the narrative to a far better place; actions have been taken in high institutions based off a topic that erupted on social media, improvements have been made and there has been a great wave of learning, unlearning and relearning in society today.
Although the destination of the topics being heavily debated upon in the world all over is clear, where does that leave room for healthy & constructive debate? What happens if some people stop voicing their opinions because they’ve been powered down by the opinions of others? Does that mean those that overpower others with their opinions & ideologies automatically makes them right?
Today, It’s hard to live on social media well knowing that whatever it is you say, can or will be used against you someday. Your opinion could simply turn around to be misinterpreted and before you know it, daggers will be drawn and tempers will flare online if it rubs some people the wrong way.
To counter that, we have seen people include; “Retweets are not endorsements” & ‘Views expressed are my own” in their bios to avoid being ‘misinterpreted’ or ‘judged’. Whether this has helped or no, that is something I can’t entirely ascertain.
Last year, Disney fired director James Gunn from helming the third film in the hit Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, following the discovery and circulation of several old tweets in which he displayed gross humour and made jokes about rape. Several of the tweets were posted a decade ago and contain jokes about topics like rape, paedophilia, sex, and masturbation.
By now, you should have seen how the media and activists have descended upon Hollywood actor, Liam Neeson like a swarm of bees after his controversial interview where he had said “he walked the streets with a weapon around 40 years ago, hoping to take out his anger after someone close to him was raped by a black man.” His comments have since been branded as “completely inappropriate and offensive”.
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On several occasions, American rapper Kanye West has been heavily criticised for his opinions online with the recent being his support of the American President Donald Trump. Speaking of the American president, he must be used to having his opinions heavily hated and has had his fair share of backlash online because of some of his controversial opinions and comments.
When second Lady Karen Pence accepted a part-time teaching job at a private Christian school that does not admit LGBTQ students or hire LGBTQ employees, she was welcomed with a backlash online. For his always diverse and strong opinions, English journalist, writer and television presenter Piers Morgan has been heavily criticised by social media users and celebrities.
Several companies too have not been so pleased with the idea of opinions either and have taken rational decisions in the past. In 2015, Workopolis reported that over 14 Canadians who were fired for social media posts, Google fired James Damore For Expressing an Opinion
In Uganda, we have seen egos clash as people who don’t agree with the incumbent NRM government will get easily angry all the time. Individuals that support the government continue to struggle to put their opinions across as those that are not in support continue to quash them and vice versa. On social media platforms too, people have continued to call out each other and water down other people’s arguments. While others continue to call for healthy conversations, aren’t out there to discern any of that and are simply spewing hate speech and whatnot.
Even when presented with an articulated argument that is devoid of errors and has all the facts, one will be quick to disagree, ridicule and rubbish an opinion of the other and simply choose to gullible about what they could have heard or simply chose to believe with no room of change of thought, regardless. The idea of learning, unlearning and relearning is slowly dying too as many people are filled with rage, anger and frustration to be heard and in due course are desperate and ‘bitter’.
In his piece in the New York Times titled, “The Dying Art of Disagreement” Mr Bret Stephens wrote a very impressive opinion about disagreement being the most vital ingredient of any decent society.
In other words, to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say.
There should be a levelled ground for people to agree and disagree, for healthy debate, for one party to comfortably lose and other to win an argument, for one to learn and the other to teach, for people to debunk thoughts and also share knowledge. For this once, we need to stop listening to respond but to understand for that is what healthy debate is.