Righteous Indignation: Debating with Dignity

November 5, 2012 | Katie

Lena Dunham’s “first time” video endorsing President Obama’s re-election has created a stir in the media recently. Many people with traditional values dismissed it as a disgusting sexualization of young female voters, as well as a  jab at anyone abstinent. On the plus side, it led to a slew of parodies like this one and this one.

A funny video response, I think, is an amusing and mostly harmless way to respond to something with which you disagree. It’s less appropriate to insult a person outright rather than just his or her opinions, especially when using a word that could hurt others.

There has already been a general uproar in both conservative and liberal circles against Ann Coulter’s use of the r-word to describe President Obama. Do we have the right to free speech? Absolutely. Does that mean that we shouldn’t have a little self-control and sensitivity? Of course not.

My college has a foreign language requirement, and yes, it’s really difficult, but speaking in an unfamiliar tongue makes me realize the importance of voicing thoughts before speaking them. Speech is the mental faculty that separates us from the animals (unless you’re a parrot or this elephant).  It has enormous power, and we shouldn’t use it in a way that is animalistic in cruelty or carelessness.

I know Ms. Coulter probably meant no offense to people with special needs; she was only trying to make a point.  But the validity of her argument was lost in the way she phrased it. That’s happened a lot lately to conservatives. It isn’t that conservatives are the only ones using distasteful insults; they’re just getting more attention for it. And if conservatives are going to be held to a higher standard, then they ought to rise to the occasion. A point can be made more effectively with class. Only a desperate argument needs extremism to draw attention to itself.

You know the old idiom “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar”? While conservatives should not be sweet doormats who never state their opinions, there is a better way to make a strong, convincing point than pointless offenses. See the first debate, when there was more civility, fewer insults, and fewer interruptions. After that, discussion (if you can call it that) deteriorated painfully, and, to me, seemed less convincing.

I’ve talked before about offensive wording in the media, but now I’m even more disappointed. Some things are deserving of anger, but that anger should be successfully channeled. Not just in martial arts and other physical activities.

The point is, it’s possible to be angry in a way that’s productive. Exercise of the mind is just as important as exercise of the body, and it takes a great deal of mental discipline to craft an effective argument instead of reverting to base insults. That mental discipline also lends itself to meticulous research, honing of thoughts, and trustworthy arguments – just what should be expected from people who pride themselves on their task of informing others. Don’t accept any less, from others or from yourself, and keep it classy.

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