Respect: the key to ending party polarization

More stories from Collin Okim

Politics is amazing in that it has the power to unite and divide people at the same time. The two-party system is a perfect example of both unifying and dividing people. On one hand, each political party brings together a coalition of people with similar ideas. On the other hand, the two-party system divides the country. Agreement between the two parties is rare and fighting between the two is constant.

Montgomery County, where I have lived most of my life, has been nicknamed “The Liberal Bubble.” Driving through my neighborhood, the majority of bumper stickers on cars and lawn signs support Democratic candidates. Instagram and Facebook feeds in my town share the same articles blasting the current administration’s values and the tactics they employ at press conferences and rallies. The residents all tune into the same news channels like CNN and MSNBC. Conversely, many conservatives exclusively watch Fox News. Many of the residents can be described as closed-minded because they are so used to hearing the same thing over and over, that in the end, they only have one opinion. Anyone who dares to challenge them will be faced with personal attacks of character. This state of mind trickles down to their children, who in turn, are as intolerant as their parents.

Our school is not exempt from the same issues that our county and nation faces. Students are unable to voice their opinion to their friends out of fear of retribution which creates polarized friend groups.

“I often don’t feel comfortable sharing my [political] opinions because I will often get verbally attacked for having a different opinion,” an anonymous senior said.

The verbal abuse many students get for simply sharing their opinions creates an echo chamber in our school. This makes it extremely difficult to have friendships outside of oneś own political party. And when students have friends with different political beliefs, politics are not discussed because they are “too problematic.”

The root of this problem is the lack of respect for others’ beliefs. The problem is not that students have opposing opinions; it is that they can’t debate respectfully. There does not need to be agreement between everyone, students simply need to learn to respectfully disagree. When I disagree with someone, I try to always validate their opinion before offering my own. Using phrases like, “I see your point, but have you considered…” can make people feel more comfortable and lead to a more constructive conversation.

Allowing politics to end friendships only causes more divisions and a decrease in diversity. Our school is filled with many people of different ethnic, cultural, political and religious backgrounds, and only interacting with people of similar backgrounds creates a missed opportunity. Everyone’s opinions are important and should be heard, so before you rush to give your opinion, sit back and listen to others’ opinions. In the end, you may like their ideas.