The Importance Of Listening To The Other Side
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Politics and Activism

The Importance Of Listening To The Other Side

Spoiler: it's not the one featuring Fences.

The Importance Of Listening To The Other Side

As a lover and supporter of the Humans of New York (HONY) blog, I’ve followed both the Instagram and Facebook pages for years, enjoying the photos and stories that having brought me -- and many others -- laughter and tears alike. Of all of the posts that I have appreciated, there is one from a few years ago that I think about and am reminded of on almost a daily basis. The picture is of a young woman, perhaps a student, who is staring directly into the camera lens while hugging several books to her chest. Below, the caption contains a conversation presumably between Brandon, the writer and photographer behind HONY, and the young woman pictured.

‎"I want to change the world, but I don’t know how.”
"Do you mind if I give you a piece of advice?”
“Read books by people you disagree with.”

And there it is -- the line that has always stuck with me. It comes to mind every time I’m listening to or participating in a political discussion with peers, which is not a rare occasion at Scripps. It comes to mind every time I want to tell someone that they are so, so clearly wrong. It comes to mind every time I’m frustrated with someone’s opposing view and tempted to pass it off as stupid, invalid, inferior because it’s important to understand why someone thinks what he or she thinks, even if it doesn’t change your mind. None of us are as right as we think we are, and we’re wrong a lot more often than we’d like to think.

I’m not saying that all opinions are right, or that it’s not possible for some people to be truly wrong. Plenty of people are misinformed, misled, or mistaken. Others are simply ignorant, naïve, and, in the most unfortunate cases, unkind. Still, even if you think or know that they are dead wrong, it’s important to have an open discourse with that person. Arguments where both parties are attacking each other are never productive, as the words of both sides will do nothing but fall on deaf ears. And often, as hard as it is for us to admit, there is no right and wrong to some issues -- there’s just what’s right for your beliefs and what’s right for others. As much as it can seem like your opinion is the only right one out there, there’s a reason why there is a divide on issues in our country: different people value different things, and just because someone prioritizes something else than you that doesn’t make them wrong.

Take, for example, conservatives versus liberals. When many of my peers and friends at school hear the word “conservative” or “republican,” they can’t help but make a disgusted face or dismissive remark. Because of candidates like Trump and other extreme right-wingers, people have come to associate anyone who falls in these categories as against LGBTQ rights, pro-life, and anti-progressive. And though some conservatives and republicans are exactly that, it by no means describes everyone who identifies with the right wing.

In fact, though they are pro-choice and supportive of LGBTQ rights and many other progressive social movements, my parents voted as republicans for many years and still identify as moderate conservatives due to their stance on fiscal policies. As someone who identifies as very socially liberal, there are definitely issues we disagree upon -- yet the discussions I’ve had with them have given me more of an understanding of why our country is so split, and it’s made me understand that they’re not necessarily wrong. We may have differing values and conflicting positions, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t validity in both of our views.

My father is a small business owner who worked hard his entire life to get where he is now and thus is more inclined to prioritize issues and legislation that involve small business policies and commerce when voting. He and my mother (neither from particularly affluent backgrounds) saved for years, working ridiculous hours in order to be able to afford the life they live now. I am a junior in college and have lived a life filled with opportunities and privilege because of my parents. I am passionate about social issues and about institutional change, and I’m lucky enough to not have to worry about issues like taxes or fiscal issues at this point in my life. So when I think about who I want to vote for, I prioritize social issues, while they prioritize issues that are more relevant for them -- and there’s nothing wrong with that. Often, I’ve even found that we want the same outcomes, like decreasing unemployment or improving the state of the economy, but have diverging ideas on what policies will get us there.

Ultimately, understanding the root of where your opponent is coming from will enable you to have a productive conversation. Perhaps it will give you a better opportunity to change their mind, allowing you to refute the facts and foundation that fuels their opinion. Maybe it’ll even change the way you think, even if you don’t realize that it has in the moment. At the very least, even if it doesn’t change what you or they think, you can walk away from the conversation with renewed conviction in your beliefs, knowing more than ever that your stance is the right one for you.

For me, listening to the “other side” has surprised me more often than not. It’s opened my eyes to factors I’d never previously considered, it’s taught me more about my own view, and sometimes it’s even changed my mind. So please -- don’t just click on articles that have headlines you agree with. Don’t settle for conversations with your friends where you ridicule other people’s contrasting attitudes and ideas. Listen to people you think are dead wrong. Have a dialogue. Read books by people you disagree with. Because if you don’t fully understand what you’re against, how can you claim to know what you’re for?

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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