Doing my morning (and, I do use that term loosely) coffee scan of my favorite reads, I came across this, which led me here, to Peggy Noonan’s The Sound Of Silencing. This is well worth reading, as Ms. Noonan describes the degeneration of civil discourse on the issues. Here’s a bit of what she wrote:

“Free speech means hearing things you like and agree with, and it means allowing others to speak whose views you do not like or agree with. This–listening to the other person with respect and forbearance, and with an acceptance of human diversity–is the price we pay for living in a great democracy. And it is a really low price for such a great thing.

We all know this, at least in the abstract. Why are so many forgetting it in the particular?

Let us be more pointed. Students, stars, media movers, academics: They are always saying they want debate, but they don’t. They want their vision imposed. They want to win. And if the win doesn’t come quickly, they’ll rush the stage, curse you out, attempt to intimidate.

And they don’t always recognize themselves to be bullying. So full of their righteousness are they that they have lost the ability to judge themselves and their manner.

And all this continues to come more from the left than the right in America.

What is most missing from the left in America is an element of grace–of civic grace, democratic grace, the kind that assumes disagreements are part of the fabric, but we can make the fabric hold together… What also seems missing is the courage to ask a question. Conservatives these days are asking themselves very many questions, but I wonder if the left could tolerate asking itself even a few. Such as: Why are we producing so many adherents who defy the old liberal virtues of free and open inquiry, free and open speech? Why are we producing so many bullies? And dim dullard ones, at that.”

I have been long fascinated with this phenomenon in public discourse, the increasing refusal of the left to engage on meaningful debate or even to hear the point of view of those that disagree. It is a subject near and dear to me.

In what I classify as one of the oddest events of my writing career so far, I found myself in a public exchange with a senior editor of a trade publication for the adult video industry. We were not even discussing porn or its legality, but rather the right of both sides to try to influence legislation concerning porn.

His basic opinion is that those on the other side of the issue should just shut up, that they had no right to be contacting their legislators, had no right to try to limit the degree to which this sort of material was available in their communities. I was stunned that he did not recognize that this was the American way, we debate and discuss, we let our representatives know what we think on the issues at hand. I was further shocked to find myself insulted in print by name, “that stupid writer Sharon Secor” and simply could not believe that a 20 year professional would, instead of debating issues, resort schoolyard bully name calling. In print, no less.

My understanding of how civil debate and discussion works is that we discuss issues without personal attacks or insults. At least, that is what I was taught from childhood on, first by my mother and then by my teachers. Debate with those that disagree with us is a good thing, because it helps us to investigate our own beliefs, as well as those of others, and teaches us how to effectively communicate ideas. We may adjust our beliefs through considering new ideas or we may become firmer in our principles, but we always benefit from civil discussion.

It is very disappointing to see its disappearance from the public realm. Howver, it is also quite frustrating, because of its illogicalness. After all, if ideas have merit, then they should be able to bear debate.

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