Changing the Mantra 

Working Toward Communication Based on “Premises of Respect”

As an introvert, one of my pet peeves is feeling like I am not allowed the space to voice my thoughts. In fact, I used to very commonly find myself in a group of people, at a friendly gathering or a meeting, for example, where I wanted to contribute to the conversation but could never find an opportunity to share my thoughts amidst the many other voices eager to fill up space with their own ideas. But occasionally, I could make it into the conversation, share a thought or quick anecdote, and then quickly be pushed back out again. The letting in and the allowance to stay in a conversation is all I needed to feel heard and valued.

While not everyone deals with the struggles that come with being introverted, everyone knows the feeling of being dismissed, rejected, or put down to some degree. When communication, the very web of our relationships, becomes cut off for certain individuals, those people are not allowed to enter into a human connection with others that allows for the sharing of thoughts and feelings. However, this is not just an issue with how we feel when we are cut off; it extends much further to the consequences of silencing others, such as when discussing divisive issues.

Our culture today seems to follow the mantra, “If I disagree with you, then you’re wrong. If you’re wrong, I’m not going to listen to you.” We see this in the news, on social media (Does “cancel culture” sound familiar?), and even in conversations and classrooms. However, this way of acting is quite childish and ignores one’s own capacity for growth while leaving no room in one’s mind that the other could have something valuable to share - it is harmful to both parties. Who are we if we live in a society that breaks each other down simply by dismissing each other's ideas? Therefore, the need for respectful communication is paramount to ensure that our society and our own relationships are upheld.

At the Legality of Abortion lecture, Dr. Roberto Dell’Oro opened by requesting “conversation based on premises of respect" due to the divisive nature of the lecture topic. Throughout discussion of the legal history of abortion, law and health implications of the Dobbs decision, an ethical evaluation of the decision, and a panel portion, both the speakers and audience members respectfully listened to each other's thoughts. However, I find it important to note that all three lecture speakers in some way disagreed with the Dobbs decision that removed the constitutional right to an abortion. Having all the speakers on the same “side” of the issue (when taking a binary view) automatically removes some possible contention that may arise during the discussion. Nevertheless, perspectives that approved of the Dobbs decision were brought forth by audience members, and discourse remained civil.

With the event an overall success in terms of maintaining respectful communication, the lecturers and audience effectively set a precedent for navigating a contentious topic with civility. It is conversations like these that are needed to change the mantra from “I’m not going to listen to you” to “I will gladly hear your ideas, even if I will probably disagree.” No matter what the topic or who one is speaking to, it is important to recognize that there is always something to learn from another perspective. So, let’s have conversations that value respect, exercise patience, and actively listen, both for our own growth and the building up of our society and each other.

This page was written by undergraduate intern Clare Houston

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Clare Houston is a Junior in the class of 2024, studying Biology in the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering. 

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