“Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate.”  Those were the words of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, and despite their grandiose tone, I wholeheartedly agree with them.  Discussion is the catalyst for all social and political change in a democratic society.  Through informal debates, communities subconsciously make major decisions about how to deal with the problems surrounding them.  Even at BB&N, a place few would categorize as politically consequential, the substantive discussions prompted by nation-wide tragedies, such as the Sandy Hook massacre, and even community-based controversies, like the formation of the Men’s Issues Group, promote a “free-market” of ideologies and opinions that allows democratic communities to thrive.  By discussing the merits of having a Men’s Issues Group or more rigorous gun control laws, students transform the collective ideology that governs how our community makes decisions.

However, a meaningful discussion remains incomplete until all parties have had an equal opportunity to share their viewpoints. Despite knowing this, many students at BB&N abstain from the communal conversation, saying that they choose to refrain from taking part in potentially destructive arguments.  The logic behind this decision seems to be based around the idea that arguments are, by their nature, a corrupting force that distances members of a community from one another.  The fact that members of the BB&N community see argument as harmful worries me.  Arguments are intended to help communities form collective opinions on the topics being discussed.  This is not to say that everyone must share the same opinion on an issue after a discussion but that through debate we learn what solutions best satisfy everyone in the community, how much each person is willing to give and take on a given issue, and how we, as a society, want to take action on certain topics.  Only arguments in which a given party refuses to negotiate or even discuss the topic at hand can lead to the built-up resentment that causes truly harmful conflict in a community.

Arguments are capable of fostering polarized, irreconcilable beliefs when the majority allows only the loudest minorities to control the conversation.  Radical minorities will always dominate the conversation when moderates refrain from discussing their opinions.  Even the most informal discussion about gun control with classmates helps the community better understand the opinions of which it is comprised.  In order to best satisfy everyone in our community, we first have to know everyone.  BB&N cannot make a well-informed decision about policies, such as school safety amidst fears of gun violence, if only the minorities speak up about those policies.  Open discussion is necessary to the wellbeing of a healthy community.  It helps groups reconcile differences and compromise on issues, but most importantly, it gives every individual a say in how our community functions.