Reasonable Minds Can Differ, and That’s Okay
One of the first things you learn in law school is the idea that reasonableness is a range, usually a broad one. Only on the far edges of that range does something become “unreasonable”.
This is why convicting someone of a crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” is (or at least should be) so exceedingly difficult. If there is ANY reasonable possibility that accused didn’t intentionally do the criminal act, then a jury cannot (or should not) convict.
Unfortunately, we’ve forgotten this obvious lesson when it comes to our political and civil discourse. Rather than acknowledging the diversity of reasonable opinions and working to persuade people to our cause using sensible arguments, we instead simplistically divide people into two groups—(1) those who agree with us, and (2) all the unreasonable others.
But simply because somebody holds a different viewpoint on a contentious issue doesn’t necessarily make them “unreasonable”, much less evil or immoral or stupid or hateful. More often it simply means that they are analyzing the problem through a completely different lens, the lens of their life experiences. Might we learn something from their unique life experiences?
When people civilly debate issues upon which reasonable minds may differ, there’s a possibility for progress. Both sides of the debate may indeed learn something, or at least their audience may. Regardless, respect is maintained and cooperation or compromise is at least a remote possibility. The debaters may never reach consensus on the issue, but many in their audience might, and that’s a service in itself.
But the present tendency to dehumanize rather than to engage makes such progress all but impossible. Rather than doing the hard work of persuading people to our cause using sensible arguments, we instead often resort to personal attacks, most often in the form of labeling. If I can convince myself that you’re just a “racist” or a “xenophobe” or “libtard” or a “bitter clinger” or a “sexist” or an “idiot” or a “misogynist” or...whatever... then I don’t actually have to acknowledge the reasonableness (much less the subtlety and nuance) of your argument. How convenient for me!
And by denying you the possibility of having a reasonable opinion, I also implicitly deny your humanity. This reduces my innate psychological aversion to verbal and even physical violence against you. I therefore can attack ever more viciously, compelling you to defend ever more vigorously, leading to a viscous cycle.
That’s not a recipe for progress, that’s a recipe for war. And it all starts with dismissing the opposing side’s arguments, indeed its humanity, via labeling. We can do better.
Let’s avoid labels. Let’s engage the substance of other’s arguments, and do so civility and rationally. If we do so, we’ll find more common ground that we could possibly imagine.
And, it really isn’t even that hard.