Visiting speakers deplore divisiveness, encourage respectful political dialogue

Geston Pierre told students to respect each other as human beings. He and Berny Jacques were both guest speakers at the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution’s webinar, “Respect & Rebellion: A Purple America” held on Jan. 21. (Holly Cluff)

People can engage in respectful dialogue in spite of differing ideological views, Respect and Rebellion’s Berny Jacques and Geston Pierre told students during the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution’s webinar on Jan. 21.

Jacques and Pierre deplored the divisiveness taking over the country and encouraged students to engage in respectful conversations with others who have differing viewpoints. They first held a debate on hot-topic issues between themselves to demonstrate how it can be done, and then gave students advice in an open question and answer session.

Jacques, a lawyer and politician, identifies as a conservative while Pierre, a pastor, identifies as a liberal. They share a hometown in Florida and a heritage as children of Haitian immigrants.

“It’s great to see two friends engaging productively about politics,” said Benjamin Cook, director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution.

Some of the advice the guest speakers gave was to seek out others with differing viewpoints, listen to their experiences with an open mind and build friendships even if you disagree with them.

Pierre stressed the importance of engaging with others who have differing viewpoints and encouraged every listener to seek out somebody with a different ideology than their own and try to build a relationship with them.

“It’s important to know their stories, to hear their perspectives and to dialogue because at the end of the day, we believe that friendship can heal the republic,” he said.

Jacques said when students encounter somebody with different ideas, they should take them at their word and see where they’re coming from, and then they should duke it out, remembering that the best ideas emerge in the marketplace of ideas. “Never dismiss somebody’s experience.”

He said that although Pierre had helped give him new perspectives, he had never changed his mind on an issue. “The goal of this is not to change people’s minds.”

Both speakers saw issues with the division happening in America. Pierre expressed concern that polarization will eventually lead to another war and Jacques called inclusion of diversity of thought the “fabric of our republic.”

Pierre clarified what he meant by polarization with an example. If he liked oranges and Jacques liked apples, polarization would sound like “oranges need to thrive, and apples need to die.” He said disagreement is fine, but it is important to listen to the other side.

Berny Jacques told students to “never dismiss somebody’s experience.” He and Geston Pierre were both guest speakers at the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution’s webinar, “Respect & Rebellion: A Purple America” held on Jan. 21. (Holly Cluff)

While debating, Jacques and Pierre attributed the rising division in America to different causes.

“The woke left causes more division by making everything about race,” Jacques said. “I think when we put everything in the context of race, it makes everything worse.” He objects to the practice of preferential treatment based on race and said he believes it implies inferiority and sows bitterness with those who are not people of color.

He also said many conservative voices feel like they’re being silenced and attacked, and those feelings lead to divisiveness. He cited Big Tech closing former president Donald Trump’s social media accounts as an example.

Pierre, on the other hand, credited much of the country’s division to Trump and said the former president based his campaign on hate and white supremacy. “He did not help America become a better place; he made it a more dangerous place.” Although he admitted Trump had done some good, he said, “people don’t care how much you do until they know how much you care.”

He also saw division taking the form of anti-immigration policies, which he said came from people who don’t want to see the country become browner or more diverse.

Whenever Jacques and Pierre reached a standstill, they suggested they move onto another topic. They failed to interrupt or attack one another and frequently said things to the effect of, “I disagree, but that’s okay.”

“Civility,” Pierre said, “does not mean you’re weak.”

“We need to have the intellectual humility to know we are human beings and respect each other as that,” he said.

A recording of the event is available here.

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