The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Everything by Ezra: why does having discussions matter?


In my US History class, we’re learning about the Constitution. We spent a couple of days reading and understanding the document. Then, we started to think about whether the Constitution is a living document that should be interpreted through a modern lens, or if it should be interpreted as it was originally written, and needs to be amended in order to create changes to its meaning.

When we started these lessons, I believed strongly that the Constitution was a living document and that it was necessary for the modern courts to interpret the constitution in order to keep it up to date. I was interested to hear a little about why some people thought that it should be taken literally at its original word, but I didn’t think I’d learn very much. I was sure that my understanding was the “right one.”

That day, I ended up learning more about the originalist point of view. But more importantly, I learned the importance of listening to people you think you disagree with, because by hearing everyone out, you may realize that you agree on a lot more than you think.

Over the course of a forty minute in-class debate, I realized that I was much more of an originalist than I thought I was. I’d spent years disregarding the idea that the Constitution should be taken for its original word. I’d ignored people who argued for the originalist point of view because my parents, friends and people I tend to agree with had always told me that the Constitution was a living document.

But when I finally listened to what originalists had to say, I realized that it makes a lot of sense to think that the Constitution should only be updated through the democratic process of amendments, rather than through the courts, at the discretion of appointed (un-elected) judges.

When I got home that day, I was really excited to tell my parents about my new realization. The first thing I did when I walked in the front door was tell my dad that we had had this really interesting debate in history class about constitutional interpretation. My dad’s knee-jerk reaction was to tell me that originalists are stupid, conservative and holding the country in the past.

There I was, a very liberal, progressive person, thinking I was a brand new originalist. He didn’t even listen to what I had to say. I told him that. Then, he listened to me. Then, I listened to him.

And it turns out, just like it turned out in my classroom debate, we actually agreed on most aspects of the issue. We agreed that the Constitution needs to be updated, we agreed that the current system of updating the document through the Supreme Court isn’t working, we agreed that something needs to change. We just had different ideas about how that change should be made.

And through our conversation, I think we both realized that the originalist interpretation isn’t perfect, nor is the “living document” interpretation. We both realized that the ideal solution is probably somewhere in between the two. And we hashed out which parts of each perspective we wanted to keep, which are too idealistic, and which are practical. And although we didn’t quite come to a perfect agreement, we got pretty close.

I wish conversations like that were more common.

The America we know today is so polarized. We have Republicans and Democrats, and the two can’t seem to agree on anything, and it often comes to the point where people on one side of an issue refuse to speak to people on the other side.

For example: I know a lot of people who think that abortion should be legal in all cases, who refuse to have conversations with people who think there should be restrictions on abortion. In reality, the majority of Americans support abortion rights in most cases. If people spoke to one another more often, debated their ideas, they might come to an agreement that would result in the legalization of abortion in some or most cases nation-wide, and we could move past the political stalemate we’ve been in for decades.

Similarly, the majority of Democrats and the majority of Republicans support gun control in instances of mental illness, and support raising the legal minimum age for purchasing a gun from 18 to 21. Yet, there’s a narrative out in the world that all Republicans oppose gun control, and all Democrats want to ban guns altogether. Neither of these statements are true, but our country has become so polarized that people who support stronger gun control refuse to have conversations with people who support weaker gun control. The result is further division, and a lack of action to address something that most people see as a problem.

The two party system that we have today seems very cultish, on both sides. We have effectively divided ourselves into an “us” and a “them.” Federal level politics have become very performative, as if people, including politicians, are speaking more to members of their own parties, rather than attempting to engage with people who have different opinions.

We’ve forgotten that meaningful political discourse: the sharing of ideas, open mindedness and compromise are essential to democracy. More broadly, we’ve forgotten that politics are ultimately about people, not about parties or ideologies. When we start to lose sight of each other and only see political parties and hard-line ideologies, that’s when the government starts to stop serving “The People,” and when we start to see corruption and chaos.

I think we’ve started to head in that direction, but it’s not too late to turn around. We can start with something as simple as having conversations.

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