It seems like every week a new issue creeps up that divides us. And while disagreement is a natural and welcome byproduct of a free society, the cancel culture that has arisen in the past few years is a toxic misstep. Have we lost our ability to find common ground with our counterparts? Are grace, forgiveness, and generous interpretations extinct in our social and political discourse?

Perhaps it’s my youth, but I think there’s still hope.

It’s an old banker’s adage that the best way to identify counterfeit money is not to study fake bills, but to get well-acquainted with the real ones. There’s no lack for critiques, diatribes, and denunciations of our day, but it seems to me that robust alternative visions are lacking. I don’t believe in utopias, in fact I think attempting to create them tends to do more harm than good, but this ever-growing fissure in our country needs stitches, and stat.

Like most solutions to the human condition, I think the answer is right under our turned-up noses: active listening and civil dialogue, face to face.

One of the most beautiful things about our constitutional republic is its beating heart: freedom of thought. In its design, the United States government is supposed to defend these inalienable rights, not sanction them. What this creates is a diverse marketplace of ideas, where one can participate and decide for oneself what is the better argument, rather than be forced into a position simply because it’s the popular or state-ordered one. In this wild marketplace, thinking for oneself is not only a virtue, but a strength.

I believe acknowledging what works will help steer us away from what doesn’t. Our country is very, very flawed and there is much work yet to be done to make it a more just and free place to live. But the openness of our dialogue, ensured by the First Amendment, is a special quality we should deeply cherish. More real conversation and free debate in the marketplace of ideas will only benefit our nation, not lessen.

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The Finger Lakes Times has prepared a special section in commemoration, and I had the privilege of interviewing a local chaplain who served at Ground Zero for it. I was fairly young when the tragedy struck, but when this gentleman spoke of the national unity that followed, I was moved as it conjured my own memories. I hope we can find that togetherness again today.

A few weeks ago, I went to a Red Wings game at Frontier Field. Delayed by over an hour thanks to a steady drizzle that would not let up (fitting for an evening themed by a New York Post columnist’s critique of “grim and depressing” Rochester), the game finally began with the national anthem. The song was led by a recording of that classic organ sound one usually hears blare at stadiums, with no vocalist. Some of us stood, some did not, but all around you could hear the soft hum of folks filling in the melody. All I could feel was thankfulness for the diversity of those voices, and the spirits, ideas, and hopes behind them.

Abbey Sitterley is a copy editor at the Finger Lakes Times. Contact her at

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