Not so long ago, ‘healthy debate’ and ‘agreeing to disagree’ were often-used phrases for acknowledging that different people see things differently. As the French say, ‘Vive le difference!’
Today, many community leaders, such as David Malcolm of San Diego, have to wonder what has happened.
‘Stifling, negating, or simply ignoring differing viewpoints is becoming common in education, politics, business, and society. In my view, that is a threat to our values and our future,’ said David Malcolm.
Differing, even diametrically opposing viewpoints need to be encouraged, not canceled, he believes. It is fundamental to the American way of life. The First Amendment, adopted in the Bill of Rights in 1791, protected freedom of speech, and it has been a basic principle for 231 years. Today, we could risk erosion of that core value.
‘It is vital for education,’ said Malcolm. ‘My family and I support educational institutions and scholarships, but I am alarmed at what seems to be a desire to decide what can or cannot be taught, presented, or even discussed. Education, especially higher education, has a responsibility to teach critical thinking.’
To develop critical thinking, students need to be exposed to various perspectives to see things from more than one side, decide what resonates and establish their own world views over time. If educational institutions limit what their students are exposed to, Malcolm wonders how today’s students will develop the critical thinking they will need tomorrow.
His concern is well-founded and shared by numerous others who understand that critical thinking is the tip of the iceberg – freedom to voice and explore different perspectives on social and political views in a classroom setting allows students to gain essential skills in perspective development, active listening, teamwork, and the ability to learn from others and create healthy relationships.
As Malcolm recalls, stepping outside one’s comfort zone to listen to opposing viewpoints was once integrated into American schools.
‘A friend of mine in high school had to debate in favor of US military intervention in Vietnam in the 1970s. He disagreed with the position, but he made the best case he could – and won the debate. While he did not change his position, he learned about nuance,’ said Malcolm. ‘Black and white is good for photography, but not for world views.’
Differing viewpoints are also valuable outside the classroom walls, especially in business. We all know the expression ‘yes men’ (or women), meaning those who automatically agree with the boss on everything. As a seasoned business leader, Malcolm stresses why this approach is dangerous.
‘I can make mistakes, bad decisions, or faulty judgements on my own. But I need other people’s perspectives, even push-back, and disagreements, to inform and improve the decisions I ultimately make. Every business leader should welcome and encourage diverse opinions because it is the right thing to do and because it is good for business,’ explained Malcolm.
It is also important for society. In a world of information overload, it is tempting to pay attention to only what we already agree with – whether that means only Fox News or only CNN News, as one example. Even Internet algorithms help us limit our worldview to what we already believe, reinforcing our beliefs.
As we interact with others, the temptation is to spend our time with people who feel the same way we do, think the same way we do, and act the same way we do. We lose out on the richness of many perspectives.
As Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote about the French literary giant Voltaire, she explained his views in this way: ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’
‘Disapprove and disagree, but listen to and allow differing viewpoints,’ concluded Malcolm. ‘Communities and individuals alike will be all the better for doing just that.’
About David Malcolm
David Malcolm of San Diego is an influential real estate professional, entrepreneur, and community leader with over four decades of work experience. Malcolm is an esteemed graduate of Harvard Business School’s Presidents Program, a licensed real estate agent and broker, and a Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM). He has run and advised multiple public and private companies and held several municipal and statewide public offices. Malcolm currently serves as President of Cal West Apartments, Inc., a trusted provider of quality rental housing in San Diego and South Riverside counties.
Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.