Among the most underappreciated virtues is restraint. Or better, self-restraint. It belongs to the category of virtues that includes self-control and self-discipline.
In the minds of most it has now become synonymous with repression, and thus, is considered a vice, an impediment to your fully flowering as a unique individual.
John Dickerson values restraint. He thinks that we need more of it. He believes that the world cannot function very well without it.
By his lights, the less people practice self-restraint, the less they will engage in open and constructive debate. Nor will they become effective participants in the free market. It ought to be well enough known, but free markets only function when people play the game according to the rules. And that requires restraint.
Many people these days believe in freedom. Just as many misunderstand it. They embrace the freedom to do as they please but reject the freedom to be responsible for what they have done. Freedom is not an absolute and all freedoms do not have the same value.
Without restraint there is no freedom. If people are doing what they want, without restraint, they will be circumscribing your freedom of movement. If people believe that business is whatever they can get away with, the free market will become more like a free-for-all. If people exercise their freedom by interrupting others, by shouting them down, by making it impossible for anyone to consider their arguments, those others will lose their freedom.
Dickerson explained his idea at the Aspen Institute:
I am a fan of restraint. I think we've lost the ability to restrain ourselves and that leads to boorish behavior, bad outcomes, cruelty, and the forfeit of reason. I want this debated for just the reason you suggest in your question: because debate sharpens ideas, illuminates their more subtle points and makes fuzzy ideas seem exciting through the process of exchanging views.
It’s difficult to be a fan of restraint when the culture is telling you that restraint will make you sick. It is difficult to tout this virtue when the culture argues that it will cause you to be sexually repressed and emotionally stilted. If one wants to know why we no longer value restraint the answer must lie with the therapy culture.
Those who do not value restraint are not merely libertines. They might also be fanatics and zealots. They believe that their cause is so just that restraint is merely an excuse for perpetuating injustice.
Restraint functions best when people are rational. If the light of reason is extinguished, they will only have their emotions to guide them. And that will cause them to dispense with restraint. Lacking restraint they will not have the discipline to communicate effectively or to work efficiently.
Most any religious figure could make the case for restraint if for no other reason than generosity and compassion require a pause in self-obsession.
Thinking of others instead of yourself requires restraint particularly in a world where we're being offered this, that, and the other thing to self-sooth, distract, or please ourselves.
Why did restraint go out of fashion? Dickerson offers this explanation:
What's the argument for a lack of restraint?
Well, if you don't act, threats grow. If you don't act, injustice is allowed to continue. Sometimes the first hot reaction tells us a truth that's more important than the product of cool reason. This was the undertone of the Clinton/Sanders debate. I tend to be a fan of restraint so I can't name the other arguments, but surely they're out there.
Call it conviction. Call it a conviction of your own rightness and righteousness. If you believe that you are totally right right and the situation is so dire—apocalyptically so—then restraint becomes an excuse for perpetuating injustice or bad weather. Sad to say it, but such convictions border on the delusional.
Don’t you see the absence of restraint in the rhetoric of the climate change activists? If you ask them to restrain themselves they will tell you that the world is about to come to an end and that we must act right away, regardless of what anyone thinks.
If restraint, as Dickerson says, promotes rational argument and intellectual debate, those who don’t believe it will do everything in their power to shut it down. They will often do it with ad hominems.
When someone disagrees with you, you need not debate the issue. You attack his motives. You call him by one or another insulting name: climate change denier, racist, homophobe, Islamophobe… you know the list.
Dickerson doesn’t use these terms, but his terms are also to the point:
I tend to think that most of our public debates would benefit if everyone didn't motive-judge from the outset. If there weren't a social media culture and special-interest-fundraising cycle that fed off lack of restraint that would be great, too.