Hilary Koch: We need a better way to debate tough topics

“You are blocked.”

“What am I?!” I sat down and stared at my computer screen in complete disbelief.

I had just accepted an offer to write a regular opinion column for this newspaper. So out of curiosity, I looked up some columnists on Twitter. I came across someone I’ve read regularly over the years, someone I disagree with on a regular basis with opinions (though not always), but someone I’ve never had a disagreement with. exchanges and whom I have never met.

But I couldn’t see more than his profile picture because he blocked me. Blocking someone is what you do in response to harassment, but I hadn’t harassed them. I don’t remember any interaction with him.

“You are stuck. You may not follow or view Tweets from (username).


I am, shall we say, “frank”. I’m really comfortable saying what I think. This can be problematic. I would characterize myself as “outspoken and assertive” – attributes generally associated positively with men, but negatively associated with women. I was told that I had “too many opinions”, and I never quite understood that. Isn’t that an oxymoron? How can anyone be also dogmatic? How can anyone do not opinions on just about anything?

Everyone has opinions. Take some ice cream. What is the best ? Chocolate? Vanilla? Or strawberry? Summer time or winter time or both? (Yes, I’m thinking of you, James!) Patriots or Steelers? (Can there be an argument? Come on, Steelers!) What about more contentious issues like gun control or kneeling during the national anthem? For or against, most of us have an opinion.

What took me by surprise was that someone said to me, “The problem with you is that you always think you’re right!”

Well, of course I do.

My opinions are based on my upbringing and lived experiences. I mean, do you walk around thinking your beliefs are wrong? I think most people think they are right. (And if you’re sitting there thinking I’m wrong, good for you! Because that’s an opinion, and therefore you’re proving my point!)

Where is the problem that I am also talk about my opinions? Well, I think that’s a good thing too.

For years I’ve argued that we shouldn’t be so concerned that we all have different opinions, instead we should focus more on How? ‘Or’ What we express them. Debate and discussion are good. I grew up in environments where heated dinner conversations were the norm. We shouted and it wasn’t personal; we were just fiery.

In fact, I remember having dinner at my dad’s house when my best friend shed a tear after discussing whether fraternities were worth being college organizations. (She was doing really well, Dad! I just wasn’t used to someone as passionate as us!) Some of my favorite memories from college were heated debates about the social contract when we read Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Machiavelli.

One of my best friends, Chris, was a staunch Republican, conservative, and political science student. I didn’t know who I was, but I tended to lean to the left. Chris and I spent most of our time thinking and debating notions of justice, morality and ethics. We would get angry, shout, and then find ourselves laughing — especially when we disagreed fervently. Because we took the time to listen carefully and fully explore the topics, we often changed our minds about each other.

And so, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that while it’s good to have like-minded friends, it’s just as good not to isolate yourself too much. We have become so comfortable in our carefully organized tribes that we have forgotten that we have anything to gain from dialogue. I may not always agree, but I do my best to listen to points that others bring up that I haven’t considered. It is through this process that my mind can actually be changed and that I can learn. And yes, from time to time, I even find that I am wrong.


“You are blocked.”

I read it again. And then I laughed. In fact, I screamed – like teenagers do when something really exciting happens. Because, you see, even though I read his columns regularly, I was never interested enough to take a look at his social networks. But it felt good to know that I was convincing enough for him to look at mine.

So I will be here on Sunday to give my opinion. I can’t promise you’ll like them, but I eagerly invite you to join me in a lively debate. You can follow me on Twitter if you want. But here’s the wonderful thing about my opinions, just that: they’re mine. At the end of the day, it’s okay if you don’t like them.

Turn the page or block me on social media. I’m a woman, I can handle it.

Hilary Koch lives in Waterville. She welcomes comments on: [email protected]

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