In my teens, I came to realise that there were some people in the world who have diametrically opposed views to mine.
I saw and was taught about tragedies all around the world like poaching of endangered species, or the burning of the rainforest, or factory farming. I learned about the debates on immigration, gun control, abortion, euthanasia, and many more topics.
There were people doing things that I disagreed with. When I looked at these opposing groups arguing with each other, I realised that it would be hard to find a common ground with people on the topics that we strongly disagreed on. Many people struggled to even have a civil conversation with one another.
It’s easy to dismiss those people that are saying something that we disagree with by giving them some kind of label. We call them “racist”, “selfish”, “scrounger”, “extremist”, “hippie”, “moron”… the list goes on. Each side has it’s own preferred names for their opposition.
I think part of this comes from the media that we’re brought up on. From a young age, we’re taught that there are the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ in the world. We see it in our films, our books, and our religions. We’re taught that it doesn’t really matter what the ‘bad guys’ want, because they’re evil.
We naturally see ourselves as one of the good guys, so anyone who disagrees with us must be a bad guy, and can be dismissed and denigrated.
More recently, as a adult, I realised that the people who disagreed with me are not necessarily bad guys, just people with a different view point. Certainly, some amongst them are bad guys - no free passes to groups like Daesh, EDL, Ku Klux Klan, Antifa, etc - but most aren’t.
I tried to stop viewing other people and their opinions in that way.
But then I did something much more insidious.
I tried to reconcile their conflicting opinion with my own by telling myself that they were lied to, were brainwashed by the media, that they were mislead, or didn’t understand the issue fully, or hadn’t considered the consequences… whatever. We don’t like to consider that we might be wrong; it’s easier to assume that someone else is.
I’ve seen a lot of people in the media fall into this trap. Much was said about the ‘Brexit Bus’, for example, and that the British people were mislead about Brexit. It’s probably true that many saw that incorrect statistic and some of those may have based their views on it. But sometimes statistics don’t actually matter when compared to emotions.
I’m sure that there are people who don’t fully understand the issues that they are campaigning about. Some people maybe haven’t fully considered the consequences. Maybe they don’t know all of the statistics. But it’s wrong to assume that without speaking to them.
Those kinds of assumptions are disingenuous and are patronising to the opposition. They’re the reason that people are so divided these days. Justifications are just a false way of validating ourselves.
These just have different needs, wants, and goals to me.
So now I’m actively trying to stop doing treating the people who disagree with me with suspicion, hostility, or belittlement.
Only by listening to people can we understand.
Only by understanding can we use the dialectical methods to join our thesis with their antithesis to create a synthesis of new ideas.
Try to listen. Try to understand.