We all have our opinions. We have our firm beliefs, our convictions, our passions, our unwavering positions that we’ve researched and will fight for. We have our views of the “others” and wonder how they can be wrong – so deceived – do they really believe that? How could they possibly? As President Jed Bartlett so eloquently said on the West Wing “Just be wrong. Just stand there in your wrongness and be wrong and get used to it!”
I’ll admit that I’ve struggled over the years (especially in the last two years or so) to be tolerant of those that believe differently than me on a myriad of issues. My struggle has been mostly internal as I am not one to speak up or out the majority of the time. I watch people on Instagram, on Twitter, on Facebook, scream and shout their beliefs – boldly, proudly. It’s not just those I disagree with. People who I am pretty in sync with do this very same thing. They shout what they think with absolute certainty. With snark. With condescension.
Sure, I can mute. I can block. I can unfollow. I can say something. Most of the time, I can tolerate it.
However, one thing I’ve learned over the months upon months in watching and reading the discourse among friends, is that there is actually one thing I can’t seem to tolerate::
I can’t tolerate those who aren’t interested in learning about anything further.
Hear me, reader:: I am not saying they don’t want to be convinced of anything else. I’m saying – they don’t want to learn about anything else; understand where the other side is coming from, hear their explanations, genuinely. Hear from their perspective.
Learning to Understand, Not to Convert
A friend once heard me make a remark about a book I had read. She scoffed when she heard the title.
“What made you read that?!”
I was shocked.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you have something you want to tell us? Why would you read that book? Have you changed your position on that issue?”
“No… I just… wanted to read it? See what the arguments are for the other side?”
The psychologist, professor and author Adam Grant recently said, “The hallmark of a productive debate is not persuasion, but insight. In a good argument, you’re as motivated to learn as to convince. You can declare victory when everyone involved has deepened their understanding, broadened their knowledge, or evolved their thinking.”
Even if what you’re learning is just the other person’s stance and point of view, you are at least gaining the knowledge of that. There are cults and world religions that I don’t agree with, but it’s helpful to be able to articulate what their beliefs are and why they believe them. We listen to one another to understand one another, not necessarily to agree with one another. Don’t listen or read in some kind of “gotcha” way, don’t listen always ready to pounce, always ready to jump in with your next rebuttal. You should be able to succinctly explain what the opposing view to your argument believes and thinks. It shouldn’t be “they’re idiots” or “they’re just brainwashed.” No, specifically, what do they want to achieve, what do they think is best, what is the goal?
It’s okay and helpful to verbalize to one another that we can agree on some things, even if we can’t agree on everything. If we listen to one another, there may be some key points we can find some unity on. I was listening to two people have a civil debate the other day (it was refreshing!) and one friend listed 6 reasons why he thought he was right. The other friend listened carefully and at the end said, “You listed 6 reasons. Reason #1 is a good point and Reason #4 is something I’d never thought of before, so I am with you there. Two of the six points we are in agreement, but everything else is wrong, so you’re still wrong.”
I appreciated his willingness to listen and tell his friend the parts that were true and the parts he agreed with. He didn’t throw out the whole thing before saying “some of this was true, and I validate that.”
How are We Teaching Our Kids?
There’s a big difference between educating our children and indoctrinating our children. It’s okay to teach your kids what you believe, but it’s important that they also know that other viewpoints exist. Sometimes I put on my teacher hat and teach my daughter about a religion or a political event as if we were in a classroom:: I attach no opinion to it. I teach it factually, I teach it just as statements of facts about the religion or worldview but without any of my beliefs or opinions surrounding it at all. She doesn’t need my commentary. As she gets older we can have more discussions about it once she has a fuller understanding of her own views and the views of others.
What are you Consuming?
Take a quick survey of the information you are actively choosing to consume:: the podcasts you listen to, the social media accounts you follow, the newspapers you read, the radio shows you listen to – and ask yourself if there is anything you are learning that helps you understand the other side in a way that isn’t painting them in a light that is evil, ignorant, or criminal. Is there anything you are listening or reading that you disagree with a good portion of the time? If the answer is no, then it’s time to add some things into your rotation. If for no other reason, it’s at least helpful to know what other people are hearing and watching. The intent isn’t to convert you, the intent is to help you. Otherwise you’ll never understand what it is they actually want and therefore we’ll all just be yelling at walls and nothing will change.
If you have your mind made up but are continuing to learn, more power to you. If you have your mind made up but have closed all your books, refuse to read anything that has a title that you disagree with, tuned your TV to the one channel that reinforces your views and you are no longer interested in learning anything further, that is where I find myself the least tolerant.
If you’re looking for a place to start learning but may want to dip your toe into an easy, safe space, I suggest the Instagram account of Sharon McMahon. She does a great job of giving each side of a particular topic the “floor” so to speak and letting them explain their view. Sharon’s account is non-partisan and she does not try to get you to think like her. She’s a government teacher and is there to explain things like the US Constitution and the Supreme Court. You can find her at @sharonsaysso.
Have your deeply held principles, but please be willing to learn.