Why controversy is avoided

Transgender Rights. Mass shootings. White nationalism. These are a few of the many topics individuals seek to avoid in their conversations.

Generally, when controversy arises, people tend to avoid discussing the topic so that others are not offended. Although there’s a chance of hurting my friends, I think controversy should not be avoided and should be addressed. Today, political correctness is a practice that many believe should be ingrained in one’s values since childhood. A politically correct individual is unbiased and nonpartisan in his/her discussion. He/she doesn’t marginalize, insult nor exclude a group based on its gender orientation, race, religion, etc.

A controversy, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “an argument that involves many people who strongly disagree about something.” It can be as simple as the toilet paper orientation debate. (It’s actually a hotly debated topic with a 6,000-word Wikipedia article citing numerous sources.) For generations, people have argued whether a roll of mounted toilet paper should be placed facing toward the user or facing toward the wall. The issue is something that is relatable for everyone, and there is a clear division between the two sides. Thus, a fruitful conversation can ensue between both parties.

I recently read an article by Gregory Ciotti discussing how every individual cares about three things in a debate: his or her beliefs, behavior and belonging. Participants may feel unsettled when their character, values and identities are being attacked. To avoid feeling offended, individuals shy away from controversial topics.

Many of our current controversial topics have two major opposing viewpoints, but the ideas of each camp is overshadowed by comments attacking the credibility and character of the opposition. Human nature shows that even when there is evidence that contradicts our statements, we tend to cling to our beliefs. This is known as belief perseverance. As a result, we seek out evidence supporting only our view while ignoring others. If challenged, we may (and usually as seen in heated Facebook or Twitter comments) resort to trolling (making an offensive or provocative comment, usually online, with the intent of offending others), racial slurs and other derogatory comments in an attempt to defend our beliefs. It’s true that no one likes being insulted.

Furthermore, according to research from Wharton Business School, people psychologically avoid discussing situations that make them uncomfortable. When the current system is working for us, we may find little need to expend effort to change it. However, we may fail to consider that the intricacies of what the system does is not compatible for others. Change is stressful. It disrupts our routines and presents us with the unknown.

So how do people avoid offending others? Don’t pull a Megyn Kelly, a former NBC commentator who was removed from the Today show for her offensive comments on blackface. Her mishap stems from being uninformed. She also faced criticism for previously claiming that Santa Claus and Jesus were both white. However, Santa Claus represents the imagination of many cultures. It’s not up to Kelly to decide what race he is. As for Jesus, he was born with roots in the Middle East and even Africa. Without prior knowledge or more research on the issue, Kelly proved to be ignorant and politically incorrect.

Talking about controversial topics is a tricky situation. To prevent offenses, one should avoid attacking others’ personality and avoid insulting them. However, personal judgment should be applied when deciding if the subject is too sensitive to be discussed or too important to be cast aside. The most important thing to remember? Be and stay informed.

By Phillip Leung, Print editor-in-chief
Editorial Cartoon by Joy Wang