By Daniel DeMarco |Copy Editor|
Throughout my life, I’ve often heard people express some variation of: “Well, you’ve got to respect everyone’s beliefs/opinions.”
I’m sure you reading this have also heard something like this in your life, at least once, and perhaps you may have even said it yourself.
In reality, you do not need to respect everyone’s beliefs, nor should you.
Statements advocating respect for everyone’s beliefs and opinions are a trick; they seem, at first, harmless―even worth supporting―because they adhere to respect and equality to others.
It is a trick because beliefs, opinions, ideas―call them what you will―should have to earn their respect.
Simply having an opinion or belief does not merit respect on its own; people must have reasons for what they think or believe if they want to be taken seriously.
Equally important, others must be willing to question those reasons and hold people accountable for what they profess to thinking or believing.
Someone’s belief, idea, or opinion should be supported with reason, evidence, and/or logic, and if it is not, then others are under no obligation to respect it.
Unsupported views that cannot be defended against the questions or criticism of others do not earn respect, nor do they deserve it.
There seems to be a social phenomenon where many people feel they are entitled to their views and no one is allowed to question or criticize
them. These people apparently think all opinions and beliefs are indeed equal and deserve unequivocal respect.
They simply do not.
People will often become defensive and offended as a result of minor challenges to their views; many think
a simple utterance of something like “that’s just my opinion” or “I have the right to believe whatever I want to believe” is justification enough to any belief or opinion they may have.
To a certain degree, they are correct.
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution allows us the right to free speech and expression. I would argue
it is our most valuable human right.
So let me make it clear that I am not against people having their own thoughts and ideas. Certainly I could not fully express myself to you reading this without the aid of the First Amendment, of which I adore immensely.
By all means, people are allowed to spew their opinions and views whether they are baseless and defenseless or not; no one should stop them from doing so. In fact, it is important that people share their views and beliefs.
Thomas Paine brilliantly wrote: “I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.”
pointed out the importance of free speech and why people need to be allowed to express their opinions, not only for their own sake, but for yours as well.
By denying someone the right to express themselves, you have lost an opportunity to hear something you may have never heard before. You have lost an opportunity to potentially change your own opinion. And if nothing else, hearing a different opinion forces you to question how you know what you know, and why you think what you think.
I value our ability to openly share different views and opinions, and I encourage everyone to do so for its own sake. It is essential for any discussion worthy of having.
It is unjustified for someone to be upset though if someone else challenges what they say and what they think.
People should be under no illusion that their views and opinions are under protection from the criticism of others.
Just as it is everyone’s right to think and believe what they want, it is everyone’s right to openly disagree and to criticize other’s thoughts and ideas.
If they cannot defend themselves against potential challenges, then I would argue what they think or say should not be taken seriously and
their opinion/belief is objectively less valuable and credible than someone’s that can be defended.
What I am submitting to you is when someone wants their ideas to be entertained in serious discussion, they must be willing to accept these fundamentals where everyone is open to criticism and everyone should provide good reasons for what they think. When people fail to do this, we should feel obligated in disregarding their contributions and feel comfortable in ceasing to listen to them.
Some people may see the point I am making, but feel better taking a less strident stance on the issue. These people could be uneasy with as harsh a position as I have taken and argue something like: “You don’t need to believe or accept what everyone says, but you should still respect what everyone has to say.”
Perhaps you are asking yourself: What is wrong with this more accepting point of view?
Well, allow me to take a stab at it.
This passive argument entails that you do not have to personally take the content of a message upon yourself and make it a part of your own ideology and knowledge, but you should respect the content itself and its reasons (or lack of), regardless of what they
compile of , because everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
Let’s take an example and see how it fits into this way of thinking.
A member of a racial supremacist group adamantly tells you their respective race is the superior race of Earth; it is their genuine belief that this is true.
Does this person have the right to believe all other races are inferior? Yes, the First Amendment allows this person to express their opinion and belief, however different it may be from others.
Are you going to accept this opinion as true or even useful knowledge? Most likely not; I would assume that most, if not all, who read this would never accept such an opinion or belief held by another human-being.
Do you need to, or should you, respect this person’s beliefs?
Clearly the answer here is “no.”
But why is this the case?
It should be obvious that this view, held by a fellow human-being, holds no logic nor evidence to support itself. They may have reasons why they think this way, but mankind’s progress towards racial-equality, in the last 150 years especially, should show that they are losing the argument by a landslide.
There simply is no good reason to have this superiority-complex in regards to any race over another.
Let me also note that this view is not merely a made-up example for my argument; it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are still many people in the world who truly believe that race is a major factor in determining the value and equality of a person.
In fact, there are many forms of discrimination which still prosper to this day: sexism, racism, and homophobia are perhaps the most common.
These forms of prejudice and discrimination are directly related to ideas, beliefs, and opinions that people firmly hold. Don’t
delude yourself to think that these are not honest views held by others; they are very real indeed.
Do you have any inclination to provide respect to such views?
Probably not― and I expect that most people tend to feel disgust and contempt instead.
Clearly these types of views are constructed with bad ideas, dangerous beliefs, and unjustified opinions.
Had you reason to think this was not the case, you might be inclined to show respect towards such views. You do not though because it requires more than merely expressing a view in order for it to be respected or seen as equal to alternative views.
Let’s examine another scenario.
A Flat Earth Society member tells you that you’ve got it all wrong and the earth is indeed flat.
Assessing your reasons to think the earth is spherical
, you have scientific , photographic , and video evidence among other things.
I have never met a Flat Earth Society member personally, but I feel awfully confident in assuming that they fall far shorter when it comes to providing good reasons to believe what they believe.
This person has the right to believe what they believe, but nonetheless, you do not find yourself respecting what they believe.
Perhaps some of you have been reading this thinking to yourself: “Is he really arguing that we should never respect someone’s views unless they have good reasons to back it up, no matter what?”
While I am advocating a strong stance on this issue, I am fully aware that this can’t be applicable to every aspect of a human’s personal views.
We must be reasonable and mature enough to recognize situations where demanding reasons for some views is just not necessary or even possible.
There are some things that are truly subjective and relative to each respective person.
For example, it is unreasonable to expect someone to provide compelling reasons as to why their favorite fruit
is grapes and not cherries. People have different preferences for food, and it is not much more complex than that.
It isn’t possible to provide compelling reasons as to why someone is more attracted to brunettes compared to people with other colored hair. People have different physical attractions and you cannot expect to argue with someone why they should actually prefer red-heads because there are better reasons to.
I fully admit
there are limits to this position I have taken, but I also expect that people should be rational enough to understand when the application of it is appropriate and when it is not.
There is clearly a difference between arguing about a social issue like abortion or gun rights, and arguing about whether whiskey is better than tequila or not (It is).
There is clearly a difference between arguing about theological issues like the validity of a specific religion or the existence of God/s, and arguing about the best or most entertaining sport.
There is clearly a difference between arguing about political issues, like what laws are beneficial or which candidate is best suited to hold office, and arguing about the best college major to pursue.
I submit to you that it is a personal responsibility to recognize these differences and to act accordingly.
I respect your right to have your own opinions and beliefs, but I reserve the right to respect your opinions and beliefs, or not.
I respect your right to express your opinions and beliefs, but I reserve the right to criticize your opinions and beliefs if I see reason to.
People have rights, and that is why people can freely express their ideas.
On the contrary, ideas do not have rights and that is why they can, and must, be criticized. This process is the foundation of progress.