It is imperative that we surround ourselves with people who disagree with us. Yes, our antagonists and dissenters, with their extremely opposing viewpoints, need to sit at our party table.
While these people may not finish our sentences or “say it like we think it,” they will help us to think critically about our world. Imagine a room full of your proponents, clapping and cheering for everything you say. For the most part, they’re listening and agreeing with us; that’s great because their encouragement helps to fill us with a sense of accomplishment and pride, but we must be careful when we only receive praise.
In her commencement speech to the Class of 2016 at High Point University, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explains, “It’s possible today to live in an echo chamber that serves only to reinforce your own high opinion of yourself and what you think.” Thus, when we constantly surround ourselves with people who always agree with us, we may not be challenging ourselves to think critically about our beliefs. Rice continues, “There is nothing wrong with holding an opinion and holding it strongly. But at times when you are sure that you’re absolutely right, go and find somebody who disagrees. Don’t allow yourself the easy course of the constant amen to everything that you say.”
Amid the praise that we receive, we also need some (constructive) criticism. Surely, living in a world where people don’t “check you” for what you say can be dangerous. We know that we make mistakes yet, we don’t always realize it. Other times, we may make leaps in our arguments, making points that become faulty, slippery slopes. A slippery slope, for example, assumes that if you lose your pencil in class, you’ll fail the term. Your opponent will mention that you can find another pencil or writing utensil. Since our opponents usually listen to our points with critical ears, harboring on our every word and formulating questions for us, they may impel us to examine the foundational reasoning for our opinions. Of course, we know that not every opinion or belief is formed or founded with reason; that’s a scope, however, that I will not explore.
In essence, talking to people with opposing viewpoints allows you to get a more adequate and true perspective of reality. We all have different opinions and if you only surround yourself with people who share your opinion, you’ll surely miss out on interacting with a whole group of people. If you don’t agree with your opponents, at least you may benefit from the dialogue that ensues by speaking with them about the hot topic.
Recently, I witnessed a discussion between two people on abortion. One participant was pro-choice and the other was pro-life. Using personal examples and outside sources, they both revealed why they have chosen their particular side in the debate about abortion. It was wonderful. Truly, both participants listened to the other, without attacking the other for their beliefs. Each saw the validity in the other’s argument and explored the examples provided. Most importantly, at the end of the discussion both individuals revealed that they had gained knowledge as a result of their interaction with one another. As a result of their dialogue, they were able to explore new circumstances and to develop new questions, all while maintaining their position on the issue.
Today, some people stand firmly with their parties of opinion, political or otherwise on various issues. While it is acceptable for us to have our beliefs, it is not acceptable for us to isolate ourselves in the bubbles that we create with our parties of similar opinion. There exists a larger world of a diversity of perspectives; some are beautiful and others are repugnant and we should be aware. If we only associate with our party, can we educate ourselves about other people in our world? I am not implying that there is nothing to be learned by only associating with your party, and that you can’t remain informed about the other party because of your association, but I am discovering that there is an immeasurable amount of value in fellowshipping with our opposers. You can strengthen your character and your beliefs if you are able to peacefully interact with your opponents. Yes, these opponents may never change their opinion on the issue, but at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that you can interact with them.
Besides speaking with those you disagree with, you can also carefully and wisely read articles and watch videos that challenge your beliefs. Of course, as a matter of self-care we can’t always associate with our opposers or watch or read everything that contradicts what we believe in. There should however, be a balance of exposure to ideas that we can both affirm and deny. Sure, it won’t be easy to extend an invite to an opponent whose beliefs contradict our own, but it will be worth it.
If you’re reading this and disagree, let me know; there is nothing better than dialogue with your opponents in order to foster growth and understanding; we may “dish” each other something new.