Something I am so proud of our generation for is our interest in politics and our drive to change the world. We know we don’t get an adequate political education in schools: not as much as we should to encourage tolerance and engagement locally and nationally. However, since being at University, I’ve been inspired by the drive people have to get involved and change the world around them.
However, something I have also seen as a response to the increase of political engagement is the decrease of political tolerance. I wrote an article last year about the benefits I gained because my best friend is a conservative, whereas I am not. Yes, we disagree on a lot of things, and no, I wouldn’t be best friends with him if he was discriminatory or perpetuated hate. Just because he has a different affiliation to me, that does not mean he is automatically prescribed to those awful traits that we see on both the left and the right. And, just so this is ultra clear, free speech does not equal hate speech. My listening and politely respecting someone’s opinion is not giving them merit to spread hateful politics. That is not the same as someone having an opinion I disagree with.
I feel like discussion is SO important in politics. Open, mature discussion allows people ‘ viewpoints to be heard, considered and actually understood outside of the heated, emotional passion that polarises people and puts people into horrible categories, as if they represent the worst of a party they feel more drawn to. It also allows people on both sides to continue being informed and educated about things we can ALWAYS learn more about. And education is so important in developing as a person.
My best friend does not and never will disagree with me on fundamental social things, like anti discrimination, like being tolerant of people, like being educated. He just happens to prefer certain policies that are within a different party that I consider less important. Does that make him a fascist, evil conservative? Well, no. Only when we make fun of each other. By that merit, I’m the radical socialista who’s obsessed Corbyn! But we both want the best for our country, for the people, for society. We just have different methods of getting there. And this is not saying we should be tolerant and open to the likes of Robinson who does perpetuate hate speech – this is a completely different situation.
I understand people being naturally drawn to people who agree with them, who are in the same social and intellectual bubble. Its not fun being disagreed with, its even less fun when it gets personal (as it usually does in politics), but I am so grateful for my opportunity to have met, debated, conversed and taught myself to listen to people who have different thoughts and opinions and viewpoints to me in a constructive way, because It’s allowed me to develop so much more as a person, as an activist, politically and socially. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a way to go. I am still learning to not take things personally, its put a real strain on friendships of mine, and my friends (and myself included) are still learning how to debate respectfully, how to actually listen without hearing words and creating a response before the message is clear. Its difficult, but its necessary. These debates have opened my eyes and mind up to ideas that I would have never considered otherwise – it’s interesting if nothing else!
Polarising each other and making politics a war of ideology is counterproductive to any cause. Instead, we need to encourage political tolerance, an openness of discussion to learn from each other, put our heads together and move on in a productive way to better society. Besides, what law, legislation or thing is really going to change out of a Facebook argument where people are calling people insults and names? Its petty, and childish.
I am so excited for the future and to meet new people, especially ones that I wouldn’t usually associate with outside of my bubble. People in politics should welcome constructive criticism and too often in national politics we see personal attacks and smears against each others parties. What does that achieve? A divide? That’s exactly what we need less of.