Community / Opinion

Civility but not complicity

The 2016 presidential election is like no other because candidates have spent more time attacking one another than explaining their platforms. If candidates are spewing ad hominem attacks, how will Americans be able to make an informed decision in November? At Dana Hall, will political discussions become catfights?

As a school community, we have two responsibilities. We must remain civil towards one another, but we also cannot be complicit in discriminatory language.

First, our school needs to be a safe space for people to share their opinions, or civil discourse. Whatever your political leanings, when you step into someone else’s shoes it becomes easier to empathize and understand that person rather than attack. To do this, take a moment before responding to someone’s comment. Let it simmer in your mind; think about the person’s perspective, and what they are truly trying to say. Mr. Eric Goodson, Social Studies teacher, describes civil discourse as “leaving room open for everyone to share their views, and in making that room, you are honoring and respecting them, giving them the right to have those views, and demanding the same in return.”

In a 2012 climate survey, the majority of students at Dana Hall identified as Democrats. Moreover, students who identified as Republicans felt as though they could not voice their opinions. A clear political majority means that our community has an even greater responsibility to make sure conservative voices are heard and respected.

However, regardless of which candidate you support, you cannot spread hate speech in the name of civil discourse. Hate speech is any comment that disrespects an integral part of someone’s identity, whether it be their ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion. Silence in the presence of such hate speech is a form of complicity; by not saying anything, you’re essentially saying that you agree with what was said. As a community, we will especially have difficulty drawing the line between free speech and hate speech when a candidate’s platform contains hate speech, as has unfortunately happened in this election. We will certainly fail some of the time, but unlike the “outside world,” at least we are trying to make that distinction.

Some parts of a politician’s platform may resonate with us more than others; “politics are messy,” says Mr. Goodson. Remember political affiliations are only a small part of someone’s identity, and “Who are you voting for?” is not a question you ever have to answer.

Remember, this presidential election will be over within a month, but we have to live with one another – both as a school community and as a nation – for the long term.

Image: Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon have recurring roles as presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the comedy show Saturday Night Live. Image source: Saturday Night Live.