The Missed Formation in “Misinformation”

Every few months, for the last two years, I get this white-hot rage. I am enraged at the sheer lack of dialogue, the audacity, and arrogance of mandates, or the blatant censorship of any dissenting views. This white-hot rage is like a balloon in my chest, and I’m breathing out flames. Sometimes soft music can calm me, or some junk food (or alcohol, because I turned 21 in 2020). But sometimes, I just need to scream and swear.

I cannot take one more second of this. I can’t continue hearing every differing or dissenting opinion or idea labeled “misinformation” without any critical analysis whatsoever. Isn’t the point of democracy that we all get a say? What happened to the “freedom” in freedom of speech”?

I’ve avoided going into politics around COVID because I happen to disagree with much of the common consensus. Without getting into it, I want to share my ideas, my experience, and my credible research around this topic without immediately being written off.

I’m currently in graduate school at St. Cloud State University, and I think I’m the only “conservative” student. Sometimes I stay quiet long enough, but sometimes I challenge their assumptions that “everyone gets vaccinated from age 2” and “misinformation is a rampant problem.”

The problem I see isn’t misinformation. The problem I see is a lack of healthy disagreement. As I mentioned in my Priorities essay, I had coffee with a friend that I disagree with on plenty of political and social issues. I want to listen to my friend, learn why she thinks the way she does, and respect her journey toward her belief and identity. And I want her to listen to my journey and respect my beliefs in the same way. I’m not saying Truth doesn’t exist. I’m only saying we cannot impose our beliefs on others, either directly – with verbal abuse- or indirectly – by ridiculing and writing off ideas we disagree with.

Labeling ideas as “misinformation” is a cop-out. It allows us to ignore the uncomfortable possibility that two contradictory ideas can coexist. It prevents us from expanding our horizons, learning from those who are different. and possibly even changing our minds. We can’t grow and learn if we only surround ourselves with those who think and look like us. Dialogue and respectful disagreement are what breed true diversity and acceptance.

I understand the impulse to write off disagreements as misinformation. I’m a walking example of cognitive dissonance, somewhere between “disabled” and “normal human” I’ve written about this dichotomy here and here, and I’ve learned to try to educate people, instead of reacting to well-intentioned but hurtful comments. People look at me and experience some cognitive dissonance. It’s not a pleasant feeling, so people escape it by associating me with what they know.

The same thing has happened in the past two years. We’re experiencing things we’ve never seen before, so we associate the new things with what we know. We arrive at different conclusions because we’ve all had different experiences, detailed and unique and entirely our own. We all have the right to make our own conscious choices, and we have the responsibility to honor each other’s choices.

Disagreement definitely takes vulnerability. Admitting that we disagree opens the door to deal-breaking issues and ending relationships. But disagreement also breeds trust. If we stay silent when disagreement comes up, we betray our authenticity and lie to those around us. Opening up allows us to know each other more, understand each other more deeply, and achieve true diversity and acceptance. Dialogue and healthy, respectful disagreement are where diversity truly grows

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