Billy Joel once wrote a refrain, “Shades of grey wherever I go / The more I find out the less that I know / Black and white is how it should be / But shades of grey are the colors I see.”

Many of us, at least on some level, choose to see the world in black and white. I’m not talking on a racial level—I’m saving that for a later rant—but rather on a metaphoric level. Many people choose to see their opinion on an issue as the right and only valid argument, and everybody else is just pissing in the wind.

At times, it probably sounds like I do the same thing. While I admit that I do on occasion, there is an important differentiation between the way I handle most issues and the way that I am discussing today. While I am an opinionated person, and I do choose to express those opinions in a sometimes-harsh way, I don’t look down upon persons who hold different views.

The key is to not let your views of an individual be determined by their opinions. For example, an anonymous comment appeared in my LiveJournal the other day by somebody who chose to engage in a somewhat vicious and baseless attack on President Bush—a common target for this kind of rage. Have they met President Bush? Ever had a discussion with him? Likely not, and neither have I, which means neither of us has the right to consider him a bad person until he gives us reason to.

I certainly don’t expect everybody in the United States to agree with President Bush and the Republican Party’s policies—I surely don’t all the time—but just because you disagree with a group or person’s political views is no reason to hate that group or person. Even though I am a conservative leaning Independent who usually votes Republican, I don’t hate Democrats. In fact, some of my closest friends are staunch Democrats and some of my most interesting political discussions have been with persons of that party. I admit to harboring a strong dislike for President Clinton, but my dislike for him revolves around what I view as his abuse of the office of president and has literally nothing to do with his political views.

But even though I admit that dislike, I don’t refer to him as a “lying, draft dodging, cheating adulterer”—no, I refer to him as President Clinton. I attack his and other Democratic policies when I disagree with them, but I do not attack Democrats as individuals.

More fundamentally, I respect Democratic views. While I disagree with many of them, and publicize my disagreement when I do, I respect the right of people to hold those views. I believe an unborn fetus is a life, but I can understand why somebody would disagree with me. I believe that unions are severely harmful to American businesses, but I can understand why somebody would support them. I believe (this might surprise you) that we need some kind of institutionalized healthcare, but I respect people who disagree with me (ie. most of the Republican party—expect a rant about this issue in the future, by the way).

My point is that my views may be black or white, but the world isn’t limited to that. I try very hard to keep that in mind even when I voice my most controversial and extreme opinions. The simple fact is that right and wrong are relative to different people, what’s wrong to me may be neutral or just fine with somebody else. While we should never give up on having opinions and voicing them—something very important in the life of a democracy—we must respect that other people are 100 percent entitled to disagree with those opinions, and more importantly we must respect those people who do indeed disagree with us.

That means limiting our attacks to policy and views, and not to individuals. Instead of hating and badmouthing President Bush on a personal level, why don’t those who disagree with him limit their attacks to those specific issues on which there are disagreements? To my recollection I have never attacked somebody (politically) outside of their professional life and policies, no matter how frustrated I might be with their behavior.

The best way to learn to respect the opposing viewpoint is to seriously read the materials that they put out. Simply watching the news or reading a newspaper won’t give you a full understanding of the breadth of an issue. Don’t trust that negative ad you just heard, compare the major candidates’ websites and what each of them has to say for themselves. Don’t just listen to the anti-gun lobby, go and read what the National Rifle Association has to say. Don’t just listen to what conservative groups say about abortion, read some materials from Planned Parenthood as well. While I don’t expect your opinions to change, I do expect that you’ll have a more well-rounded view of the issue and an understanding of just where your opponents are coming from. Not only will you have reason to at least respect the validity of their views, but you’ll know better where you really stand and just how to frame your debate.

After all, the best debaters are those who have spent as much time researching the opposing side as they have researching their own.

Even if you don’t go straight to the sources, at least consider some variation to where you get your news. If you’re a Washington Post reader, check out what the Washington Times has to say every so often. CNN viewer? Watch an occasional half hour of Fox News Channel. Every source, whether they admit it or not, has some kind of a bias and you’ll get a different angle from each one. The more angles you have a handle on, the more suited you’ll be to argue your point whichever side it falls on.

When the political rhetoric of this nation and its politicians stoop to personal attacks—which I find happens far too often—it cheapens an amazing process of debate and compromise that we have in place here. After all, the opposing side is less and less likely to be willing to compromise with your side with each hurled insult. Most people in politics or in political discourse do not take issue with attacks on their views. As a kind of political commentator myself, I encourage people to disagree and rebuff what I say—provided they keep it in an appropriate tone. That debate is what the United States is all about, and I welcome it.

But there is a clear, thin line between debating the issues and insulting the debaters that should not be crossed. You can hate the opinion, disagree with it, and publish opposition to it, but you should always remember that their disagreement with you is perfectly valid, and you should respect them for holding true to what they believe whether you feel the same way or not. It is that respect that leads to compromise, and it is compromise between opposing views that makes Democracy such a wonderful and functional thing.

From my graphics work, I know that there is a big different between a greyscale photo and a purely black and white photo. Taking a color photo into greyscale gives it as many shades of grey as the original photo had colors. Its detail is intact, and it is granted a level of artistic expression and contrast that nearly perfectly defines every object in the photo. Taking a color photo into pure black and white averages every color to one or the other. Every part that is more than halfway to the darker side becomes black, and every part more than halfway to the lighter side becomes white. While often basic images can still be made out, the photo itself loses its clarity and its relevancy and is often diffused into mere inkblot-style blobs.

Viewing your world in mere black and white does the same thing, it distorts your views and makes them irrelevant. By viewing your world in shades of grey instead, you assure that while your opinion may still reside at either side of the spectrum, you have a full understanding of the details and meaning behind the topic you are forming your opinion about. In a nation like our own, the power you have as a result will be indispensable.