Are We Creating Space for Dissent?
Hello educators! Sending you much love and hoping that all is well with you and yours. I have been contemplating the skill of perspective taking, particularly in our current context, and have found myself wondering if we are less skilled in our ability to create space for differing viewpoints now than we were even 10 years ago. The level of divisiveness is concerning, to say the least, and the issues that are driving the greatest wedges in our society have found a comfortable place in our districts, schools, and now…our classrooms. From the conversation around Critical Race Theory; what it is and what it is purported to do to the issue of mask mandates, vaccinations, safe reopening…we find ourselves in the midst of several debates not easily rectified.
The reality is that we have significant polarity in our country at this time. It is very likely that this polarity exists within our schools; among the staff within your building and the students who will walk the halls at the start of the school year. I am finding that it is naïve to believe that simply because we are not hearing dissenting opinions in our circles, that they do not exist. The question becomes, have we created the space for a different thought or idea? If a colleague, a student, a parent, or better yet…if you dared to speak an opinion or belief that did not align with the supposed collective, what would the response be? Would there be space for honest and open dialogue with an air of curiosity, would the great inquisition set in or would there be silence and distance…both of which are laced with judgment and sidebar follow-up conversations?
Does this apply to you or your context? Try this and see. Think of one opinion that you have about any topic that does not align with the opinions of those around you. It could be family, colleagues, or even the critical world of social media that we pay far too much attention to. What inhibits you from sharing your idea or opinion? What is the backlash that you seek to avoid? Now, push a bit further and ask…what type of environment would allow you to move towards sharing your truth? What attributes would those around you need to display? Maybe openness? Active listening? Empathy? A bit of understanding? Would this not allow increased opportunities for necessary conversations? I believe it would. Now one more question.
How often do we show up in this way for those around us, thereby becoming the critical pieces to the development of the environments we seek?
If we are going to turn a corner in what seems like a war on our collective humanity, it is necessary for us to become conduits for open and honest dialogue. It will require that we not only speak our truth but hear that of others sometimes in direct conflict with our own and be open to unpacking the layers that undergird their conclusions. The idea of groupthink is not one that strengthens our bonds but one that stalls and hinders society by eliminating the tension required to think more critically and approach challenges with a degree of curiosity.
Some will say that dissenting opinions that cause harm should be given no opportunity to be aired and to some extent, I agree. I also offer that beliefs that go unchallenged eventually find the necessary breeding ground to fester and expand, thereby causing more harm to many more in the long run. The Washington Post has a slogan that states,” Democracy Dies in Darkness.” We inadvertently allow darkness to settle in when we choose to silence the voices of others through our actions. Listening to differing viewpoints does not mean agreement, but rather, it raises the possibility for understanding that will never come from news media outlets that demonize those who think differently at either end.
Former Vice President Hubert Humprephy states it well when he says,
"Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate."
True freedom allows us to hold our opinions privately and, when prompted, to share without risking exclusion from our communities. It pushes us to suspend the need for blind agreement and instead invites ideas, opinions, facts often unknown to us, and suggestions that may not be a part of our initial thinking. As we begin a new school year that is ripe with polarization, the way we model our willingness and openness for varying perspectives will have a significant impact on the classroom environments and the students we support. Now more than ever, our commitment to manage the discomfort of dissent and debate is critical. It will determine the authenticity that our students, colleagues, friends, and family believe they can bring to us in our interactions. Let's choose to suspend the angst and create greater openness and acceptance. The success of this school year will rely heavily upon this choice.
In Solidarity and Love,