The Breakdown of Civil Discussion and the Importance of Difficult Conversations

By: Eli Saperstein  |  May 12, 2022

By Eli Saperstein, Opinions Editor

Everyone knows that person who they simply cannot talk to. Whether it is because they talk too much about politics or because they do not care about politics enough, after a conversation with either, it often feels futile to dream that hearts and minds and policies could ever be changed. Reasons to avoid controversial topics are only increasing. Political correctness has morphed into an accountability/cancel culture. More and more people feel that they are unable to express themselves or ask questions about these controversial topics to their peers, even if it is with only pure intentions. This is leading to a “spiral of silence” and an absence of the important, difficult, discussions and conversations that can make those who disagree with their peers more capable of either compromising or changing their own viewpoint in a way that reflects their shared humanity, interest, and values. 

With the recent anniversary of the Yeshiva University Pride Alliance lawsuit, as well as the leaked announcement from the Supreme Court regarding overturning Roe v. Wade, I have found that there is festering resentment from both sides towards one another. Coupled with the idea that many are unable to speak to one another civilly, no progress can be made for a solution to either of these issues. This is because all the interactions between the different sides consist of virtue signaling and the same point after prepared points, which are typically being yelled at by one another. These forums quickly devolve into a way that is only meant to express yourself and your opinions and not a conducive way to hear the other side out. We all know how these conversations typically end: with one side trying to de-escalate or leave and both parties feeling worn out, disappointed, and even angry that they wasted their time, convinced that the other side is more wrong than ever.

Throughout my time at YU I have seen how rarely it is that a debate changes anyone’s mind. The disagreements usually result from differences in values. However, debates and dialogues do not change values. Discussions do. Conversations do. Listening, realizing, and truly hearing what the other person is feeling, thinks, and believes about an issue is the way to both perceive where they are really coming from as well as why they place more value on some things and less on others. In my experience, most who come in with the honest intention of trying to learn about the other side, even if they originally come into a conversation with the viewpoint that they believe an issue is black and white, quickly realize that there is in fact a plethora of color surrounding the issue at hand.

I have found that there are many who either intentionally or unintentionally try to take the easy way out by professing their ignorance on an issue and saying that they do not feel qualified to give an opinion. They may say that both sides are valid. But if the response to them is then, “silence is violence,” it threatens these individuals and may make them less likely to truly agree with the position being taken instead of only giving lip service and agreeing and then begin looking for other outlets to express their true thoughts and feelings. This is especially true when it has become normal and even expected to cut others out if they express dissenting opinions. However, as someone who tries to advocate and talk about many issues, whether it is related to politics or an issue on campus, I have found that there have been students who have come over to me asking how I can support certain things. The reason they approached me, I later found out, was because they were confident that I am their friend first, activist second. That I value them and their opinions and that I want to share my knowledge and ideas with