Personally, there is nothing worse than carefully explaining my political stance, evidence et al., truly believing that I have a justifiably sound opinion on the subject, only to be labelled by someone as a generic ‘whiny liberal’. Our generation constantly faces these stereotypes and labels, and it makes carrying on a debate or a discussion so much more difficult. There’s no substantial counter argument, nothing of substance to debate against, and it only makes us cling more strongly to that opinion which has been left fundamentally unchallenged.
However, as much as we are victims of this generalised discourse, I would argue that we dole out our fair share of labels as well. How many times do we brush off the older generations opinions, blaming the archaic society they were brought up in for their out-of-touch views, labels such as ‘the generation who destroyed the economy’? It appears that, when confronted with an opinion we don’t agree with, we have in some respects followed in the footsteps of the generations who came before us, finding it easier to stick a label on someone and put them in their political, generational, or ideological box rather than confronting the issue at hand and picking apart why they hold their opinion in the first place.
The more ominous aspect of this reality, however, is evident in the generalisations we have given recently to different groups of people. For example: Trump supporters are misogynists, and leave voters are uneducated racists. Granted there will be people in these categories that fit particular stereotypes, but in giving people these labels, we build walls rather than breaking them down, which is only encouraging polarisation. Nobody wants to be portrayed as ‘the bad guy’ in society - everyone believes his or her opinion to be justified - so applying a label to someone without fully understanding their argument only alienates people and makes them defensive. It will not suddenly shock them out of their opinion, but it will succeed in building a culture of resentment. We risk more than ever in an age of technology where so many opinions are available to us creating an ‘us and them’ environment: an online pitched battle with anger and insults preventing debate and no one having the core of their opinions challenged.
The best example of how powerful truly understanding a person’s point of view can be – whether political, religious, ethical or other – is Megan Phelps-Roper, an ex-member of Westboro Baptist Church. Rather than labelling her as an anti-Semite and a homophobe (despite the fact she picketed against Jews and Homosexuals on countless occasions), individuals online took time to listen to her experiences, understanding why she held such controversial opinions. Everyone’s point of view stems from an experience or logic that is real and justifiable to them, and we can never expect to understand someone’s point of view if we never take the time to listen. These individuals were then able to debate with her the flaws in her logic, and ultimately help her to see there was a kinder way of thinking and behaving (Watch her TED talk here).
It is becoming essential that we take the time to listen to one another, refraining from the initial indignation that some opinions may bring and digging deeper in order to build an environment where someone’s right to their own opinion is realised. The other plus side of taking this approach is that people with truly divisive opinions are drawn out into the open, where the flaws in their arguments can be highlighted and truly undermined. Otherwise, we risk alienating these people, leaving them with only those with similar opinions, which breeds distrust and division. Though it may be arduous with it being easier to condemn or insult someone’s opinion in 140 characters, enquiring further about what lies behind said opinion is not only less divisive, but so much more effective.
Generalising Our Generation as 'Whiny Liberals' is Not a Counter Argument | Chloe Bayliss Reviewed by Student Voices on 12:50 Rating: