“Why do you talk to and argue with that person? It’s a waste of time, they’re never going to understand or change.”

If you have ever posted an opinion on social media, or gotten involved in a conversation concerning government and politics on any level, or perhaps occasionally penned a newspaper column — then you have probably been asked this question before. I know I have, and have probably been the subject of it also.

To be sure, there is some merit in ignoring certain folks. In today’s world where bipartisanship and compromise are seen as weaknesses instead of strengths, it can be extremely frustrating to try and have a conversation about goings on at the local, state or national level without being attacked by those who believe their opinion supersedes the facts. Or those refusing to believe anything that does not reaffirm their own beliefs.

As an opinion columnist, you get used to having your words twisted and misrepresented by certain letter-writers promoting their own political agendas, as happened this past week after I wrote a piece criticizing the president. It’s an indication of how unimportant truth and accuracy is to some.

But despite this, I am not one who subscribes to the “just ignore them” theory of political discourse. It certainly is easier to do that, saves a great deal of time, and probably reduces your blood pressure by more than a few points.

But when we stop talking to those with opinions opposite our own, we make this country’s problems worse rather than better. Doing so surrenders the hard-earned right to engage in serious debate, which is the main principle upon which this democratic nation was founded.

That does not mean you waste valuable time engaging with “professional againsters” who merely want to get you to expend energy arguing for purposes of distraction. Debating “Facebook trolls” or similar types is a waste of time (see: Russian bots, etc.).

I still see great value in debating those I know will never agree with me or change their minds. Truth is, some of these people are my friends. I care about them and what they think, even though I totally disagree. They frustrate me, as I no doubt frustrate them, and I sometimes wonder how they can possibly defend taking the positions they take and spouting the stuff they do.

But if I block them, or ignore them, or unfriend them — what have I accomplished other than making my life a bit simpler? How have I helped advance the public discourse?

Those who disagree with this line of thinking (including many of my family and close friends) are adamant in their opinion that responding to obviously provocative and wrong opinions merely gives credence to both the arguments and the makers. I understand this.

But intelligent, honest debate is a casualty of our current political wars. It won’t come back if we all just stop talking.

So I keep responding to and debating even those I know are sometimes just baiting me. But perhaps I might convince others observing the discussion. Or maybe one of us will convince the other.

But don’t hold your breath on that last one.

Bill Gouveia is a longtime columnist and local official. He can be emailed at billsinsidelook@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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