Quaker Values in a Time of Divisiveness

By Michael Schwarze, Business Manager

In the aftermath of the election, political polarization seems to be at an all-time high around the nation and even within the Bi-College community. Disagreement is important because it forces people to face viewpoints different from their own, but it sometimes dissolves into back-and-forth arguments where neither side is listening. In a time when engaging in healthy discussion is especially important, how can we work toward productive dialogue?

The first step is to realize that finding mutual understanding does not mean accepting bigotry, racism or other prejudices.

Take Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric, which was deeply rooted in such prejudices. Some have tried to play down the bias he has shown, but the implications could — in fact, have already proven to — be disastrous. Trump’s actions and claims should never become the norm, and it’s important to actively disavow many of his comments. But we simply won’t make progress if we don’t understand others’ perspective. Fortunately, the dialogue we need in order to make a framework for mutual understanding is not incompatible with the idea of holding true our own beliefs.  

For guidance, we look toward some of the Quaker ideas Haverford holds dear. Respect for all people, including those with different opinions, is central in Quaker thought. We can work toward tolerance of the opposite perspective in search of a greater understanding based on mutual respect. This doesn’t necessarily mean supporting that perspective; instead, it means trying to understand where it comes from and what values or concerns it reflects.

Quakers also place a heavy emphasis on reflection in times of disagreement. However, when beliefs are firmly held, as is often the case in politics, it can be hard to remain open to new ideas, and the result is both sides on the defensive with no one really listening. To fight this tendency, next time you step up to join a political discussion, listen to someone who disagrees with you and take the time to deliberate on the topic. Think their arguments through, try your best to understand their perspective, and look for mutual ground to build on.

College is a place for us to experience new things and challenge our perspectives. By doing so, we are able to grow in our understanding of our own beliefs. Disagreements do — and should — happen naturally in college and beyond, but they don’t have to be dead ends. With the right tools, the conversations stemming from disagreements can be productive. They allow us to better understand other viewpoints, and by extension we learn more about ourselves.

I (Michael) grew up in a conservative household, and though I still hold a number of conservative beliefs and am a co-head of the Haverford College Republicans, I have also developed a more liberal stance on several issues. Being a part of the Bi-Co has let me challenge my views and learn why others believe what they believe. I hope we can all make room for productive conversation that pushes toward a more comprehensive understanding of what shapes our beliefs.

Chloe Lindeman contributed to this article.

From the print edition published Dec. 7, 2016

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