Imagine a world where everyone had the exact same opinion about absolutely everything. It’s hard to conceive of, isn’t it? Besides being an unrealistic prospect, it’s also a pretty boring one.
Lately, I happened across a tweet which said something to the effect of “whoever has x opinion is going to get unfollowed and blocked.” While I can’t remember what the offending opinion was exactly, it was the sentiment of the tweet that stuck with me:
Block out everything you don’t agree with.
It struck me as an incredibly ignorant, close minded and even petulant statement. Sure, you can surround yourself with people who share similar values and beliefs to you. There’s nothing wrong with that. But to develop a fully open mind, you should also engage with people who challenge you, people whom you can learn from and who can help you grow. Our perspectives and views of the world are often blinkered by our own unconscious bias. It’s healthy to have people around you who will question your beliefs and your motives. Of course, no body should ever have to tolerate intimidation or aggression from someone whose opinion differs from your own, but there is such a thing as an honest, respectful and beneficial debate.
Consider the following:
You are placed in a room with fifty people. You are all asked questions about your political leanings, your religious beliefs or lack thereof, your sexual preferences, your morals, values and personal tastes and your feelings on important socio-political issues. You are then grouped with people according to the similarities in your responses. As you have all more or less the same viewpoints on several potentially contentious and divisive topics, you all probably would get along quite well. Would you learn anything? Maybe. But because you all have quite similar perspectives, it’s unlikely there would be any earth-shattering epiphanies. You would make some new friends, at the very least.
Now imagine you are placed with those people whose answers completely differed from yours. You are encouraged to discuss your reasons for your responses to the questions. It would be difficult, possibly unpleasant. It would be offensive and maybe upsetting. You are encouraged to stay as calm as you can. You begin to express your own viewpoints as best you can, and even teach some of those people things they genuinely didn’t know. They tell you that they will reflect on what you have said. Most importantly, however, you listen. You hear opinions that differ from yours. Huh, you hadn’t thought of that before. Hmm, you think, maybe I was wrong because I just didn’t know enough. You feel your perspective shifting a little and you realise the earth hasn’t suddenly stopped spinning.
It’s not necessarily about being wrong or right. Sure, it can be hard to remain calm when you’re being faced with abhorrent bigotry of any kind. When someone is being genuinely ignorant about a subject they clearly know little about, it can be extremely frustrating. Instead of labelling someone a racist or an ignoramus however, try to educate them. Give them the facts. If they choose to ignore that, then disengage. Sometimes, you just will just not get on with people and that is okay too, but there are plenty of wonderful friendships around the world which have been borne out of difference and disagreement.
Think about and confront your own opinions as much as you can. Ask yourself why they are important to you, whether they are supported by fact or experience or are they motivated mostly by feeling? Are they maybe formed by personal bias? Aim to engage with people whose opinions are different. If you’re a democrat, for example, talk to a republican. Don’t just dismiss them because you don’t agree with their political affiliation. They are a person, just like you, who has probably arrived at their political persuasion for a plethora of reasons. Find out what those are. Maybe they’ll change their mind, maybe you’ll change yours. Maybe nobody will but you will both definitely have learned something about the other side.
It won’t always be easy. You will be challenged and insulted. You might develop even stronger convictions or you might begin to change your mind; both prospects are equally exciting. But think of all the positives: you’ll be more knowledgable on certain topics, you will develop a greater sense of empathy and you may even make new friends (just, eh, hide the knives when they come over). In the word of Amy Poehler:
Limit your “always” and your “nevers”.
So open your mind. You never know what joys you’ll let in.