Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair after transitioning from a man to a woman, and opinion platforms all over the Web reacted. Both support and criticism came across my Facebook newsfeed.
However, I wonder how many people blogging, tweeting and posting their views and those of the blogs they liked were also taking the time to listen to the opposition.
In George Orwell’s 1984, Winston gets his hands on a book supposedly written by the leader of a rebellion group. The book, which actually comes from the totalitarian government Winston lives under, reflects on how good it is to read opinions that agree with your own.
There are great benefits in reading opinions of people who share similar opinions to yours. It can allow you to learn new perspectives and even deepen personal convictions. But avoiding opposing views can sabotage strength.
“A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger,” Nelson Mandela said. “You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial and uninformed.”
Debate is not a group of like-minded people coming together to reinforce one another’s beliefs.
Debate is coming together with people of opposing views. If we come with open minds, we are able to see where our opinions are mistaken or where our arguments are weak.
It allows us to think more and, hopefully, come out with stronger reasons for our beliefs or even revised beliefs that give us better footing. Learning about the opposition also has the potential to build empathy for people we share this planet with.
I understand where there may be caveats to this advice. I probably wouldn’t look up information designed to tear down some of my core beliefs and religious practices.
However, that is different from my learning about other people’s spirituality, how it affects them and what they do because of it.
I know there are people who read the opposition’s point of view. But how open-minded are they to the things they read? Do we ever concede a good point before we rebut?
We need to recognize the complexity of the issues we argue about and the reasons for the other side’s beliefs. We should respond accordingly instead of letting anger and pride close our minds to every word they say or write.
As we face divisive topics like transgender issues, the gay marriage debate and wage equality, we cannot simply barricade ourselves in a caccoon of editorials that make us feel comfortable and tell us we are the more intelligent and moral side.
Our opposition on every matter feels the same about their opinion. We will never know which side or combination of ideas is right if we are not willing to truly listen to what others say.
We must not believe as the totalitarian government in 1984, that “Ignorance is strength.” Keeping ourselves from others’ opinions in order to somehow protect our own may actually risk us having fragile stances and weak reasons for holding them.
We need to understand that the world and its people are a complex organization with real, important issues and opinions. We need to believe and act in accordance with this if we expect the same for ourselves.