When I Was More Innocent: Reflections on People with Differing Viewpoints, 2014 edition

It is just that we should be grateful, not only to those with whose views we may agree, but also to those who have expressed more superficial views; for these also contributed something, by developing before us the powers of thought. ~Aristotle
Another election season has ended. I’m not especially thankful it ended, in large part because the business of campaigning in America never ends–it merely enters another cycle. The part of the election process which I am thankful for is this: people from various viewpoints who engage in questioning, discussing, and defending their views. It’s through those discussions that I have the opportunity to hone my ideas further–or, when I find my ideas to be flawed, begin the process of thinking through the core beliefs/problem/solution matrix that filters my attitudes.
Aristotle suggests that I should be grateful to those who expressed superficial views. He said that before 24 hour news cycles and Facebook memes were invented; if he were writing today, perhaps he would draw a line between the superficial ideas worthy of delving into, whether to repudiate or support, and those that should be ignored (…and blocked. The ability to block posts and people on Facebook is something I’m extremely grateful for!). Now society faces such an overwhelming influx of information that we too often wear blinders, fending off the overwhelming stream of facts, ideas, and appeals by only looking through our narrow lens. I’m guilty of it too–it’s a crucial coping mechanism for dealing with the onslaught of words and images we daily encounter.
But I embrace Aristotle’s concept. Considering views that differ from mine, or sometimes even superficially expressed views that I endorse, challenges me to work harder to explain–even to myself–why I hold the beliefs I do. I am pushed to examine the underlying assumptions I hold about the nature of the issue and my priorities as I answer, and I have to re-validate the data and facts that I’m using as evidence. People who disagree with me cause me to be a better critical thinker and more definite in my ideas–as long as I’m gaining that confidence based on thoughtful examination and not merely stubbornness, something I admit to at times.
I’ve framed this as a political injunction, but it extends through any ideas, opinions or creeds I hold. When I teach Sunday School (for adults–no one in their right mind wants me near children in Sunday School!), I’ve had fascinating conversations with classmates who hold opinions that baffle me.Those discussions, just like discussions I have about diet, health, education, relationships, nature, child-rearing–all thoughtful discussions–lead me to build a stronger understanding of the world and my place in it. I’m grateful for my opponents from the other side of the aisle, because they help me understand why I’m where I am and whether that’s where I should stay.

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