GUEST COLUMN, Roger Hull: For civility’s sake, base opinions on facts

Roger Hull
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Roger Hull

In any family, disagreements occur.

Among the most famous familial disagreements was the Civil War split between Ulysses Grant and his in-laws, who were staunch segregationists.

Today, we are living through a similar situation.

While arms are not (yet) being taken up between family members, we seem to be fast approaching that point.

We all have friends, people who once were close friends, with whom relationships have cooled.

In fact, we even know, or have heard, of family members who are not talking to one another at all.

Sad, very sad on a number of grounds.

A different point of view should not end relationships, and it should clearly never result in a family breakup.

If that is not to happen, we need to learn, or relearn, how to listen.

Listening to a different viewpoint is not something anyone should find difficult.

For far too many today, listening seems to be a lost art, though.

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Human beings, at least those who take the time to be informed, should develop thoughts and positions based on their interpretation of facts and information on which all should agree.

Of course, therein lies the problem.

Kellyanne Conway, former assistant to Donald Trump, once spoke of “alternative facts.”

Catchy, but very wrong.

Facts can be proven; new verifiable facts can provide additional information.

But facts are not opinions.

How do we distinguish between the two?

Because only if we do make the distinction will we be able to return to a day when we can, among family and friends, have a real conversation.

Americans can have different views about why the fraying of our relationships—and our democracy—are occurring.

One reason is the failure to teach civics adequately (or at all).

One state requires a year-and-a-half of civics; eight states teach one year; 30 states require a half-year; and 11 states have no civics requirement.

Hardly a way to produce voters who can make intelligent, fact-based decisions!

One way to reach that goal is clearly changing what is taught in school.

There is a not-so-small problem, however: School curriculums themselves have become an issue.

In Virginia’s gubernatorial election last fall, the deciding factor may well have been the issue of parental input in curriculum. A good political stance; a very bad educational position.

Bad, too, is the decision to remove books from schools.

While not exactly the equivalent of the Nazis book-burnings of the 1930s, the removal of books from libraries prevents people from learning about things needed to inform their judgment.

If teaching civics is not the answer (at least not an answer that will occur soon), if school curriculums are being improperly subjected to baseless criticism, and if libraries are being “cleansed,” what is the solution?

More conversation.

Seeking out different viewpoints is neither easy nor comfortable. It is essential, though.

Accepting a position—any position—without questioning its validity is foolish. Facts (and fact-checking) matter.

With people having to work sometimes multiple jobs to feed their families, they simply don’t have time to check and doublecheck what is being told to them.

Politicians, of course, have long taken advantage of the inability of voters to research the validity of their statements.

Today, though, we have reached a new low.

Outlandish claims seem to be the norm. Nothing seems beyond the pale, and many baseless claims are believed by far too many.

The combination of a narrower education system than we had in the past (and that we need in the future) and a behind-the-barricades mentality of uninformed voters is a frightening reality.

The Grant family and the nation had to deal with the Civil War.

May we, as families and a nation, avoid the same fate!

Dr. Roger H. Hull is president emeritus of Union College and president of the Help Yourself Win Foundation.

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Categories: Guest Column, Opinion

2 Comments

Thank you, Mr. Hull
Now if we only knew what to do when one group places their religious demands over all other Americans’ needs; a group who even places our society’s rules and mores secondary to their religion claiming America as their own god-given land. A group for whom ‘no compromise’ is their central mantra.

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