The United States of America was built on the coming together of new ideas, aspirations, and courageous thinking. The many convictions and original concepts of our Constitution were born through lots of debate, anger, and much disagreement. Even Benjamin Franklin was not totally satisfied with the end result, stating clearly “I agree to this Constitution with all its faults…because I think a general government necessary for us.” In other words, despite having personal reservations, and disagreeing with some of the other Founding Fathers, Franklin was thinking about the greater good of the country.
Once again, we find ourselves at a defining moment in our great country, and we need to meet this new moment courageously. How we meet this moment will echo through to our collective futures. We need our response to this moment to be the best it can be, once again for the greater good.
Does this mean that we won’t make mistakes, have disagreements, debates, or feel anger? No, it actually means that by making mistakes, having disagreements and debates is exactly how we will meet this moment together. Working towards what is best will remind us that we are all human, and at times will feel challenged and defensive. But we must persevere despite these feelings in order to make progress together, forgiving ourselves as well as others when necessary.
So, how do we make mistakes for the greater good of our neighbors? Decisively is the answer, and by applying our understanding, tolerance, and fearlessness to the situation. Only by being gutsy enough to show our true selves can we encourage others to show the diversity of themselves, adding to their labels of Democrat or Republican the things that truly make up their essence, the things that truly unite us. Labels like ‘parent’, ‘sibling’, ‘hard-worker’, ‘nature-lover’, etc, etc.
And by showing our full selves and not letting ourselves be reduced to a single label, we more easily see others for who they are, and not for who we think them to be. Our focus should be on learning from one another because the more we discover, the more likely we are to get along in the long run.
It was the Greek philosopher Epictetus who famously said “we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” This, in my mind, is a brilliant philosophy when it comes to sharing our ideas and thoughts, and learning about those of others.
We often make common mistakes when interacting with others, especially when the topics are controversial. The first is that we very often assume that our point of view is the correct one, and therefore we do not need to listen to what the other person is saying. Instead of listening to their argument, we wait for them to finish talking so we can “set them straight.” And setting them straight means getting them to see the wisdom in what we are saying. Do you see the difficult situation this approach can set up? Two people not listening, just waiting to get their point across. This is where heeding the wisdom of Epictetus to utilize our listening skills to try to really understand where others are coming from is priceless.
One very important concept to keep in mind when coming across a different point of view is that just because you listen to someone does not automatically mean that you agree with them.
Think about that for a minute.
A person can say what they want, and you can listen, disagree, and not feel compelled to share your own thoughts. I wouldn’t feel encouraged to share my thoughts with others if I was constantly dismissed as wrong. I would, however, be more inclined to share if I thought others are at the very least considering what I’m saying. And I’d be more likely to change my way of thinking if I was shown evidence that my position was, indeed, incorrect.
One other thing to remember when entering a discussion, argument, or debate is to set the intention of what you are trying to achieve. Are you just trying to get your point of view across at any cost, are you looking for an argument and not too concerned with the truth, or are you really looking to understand someone else’s point of view? It may take longer to reach real understanding, but it is well worth the time and effort put in.
The only way for us to move forward together is by making the commitment to one another, that we are in fact interested in hearing each other’s points of view. We must be open to the reality that our points of view may change. That we may learn new information through listening, new knowledge that is compelling, allowing us to see things in a new way. The goal is not to be right no matter what, but to share your perspective so that those who do not share it can understand it.
And where there may be times when we agree to disagree, this should not cause us to disrespect other points of view, or to dismiss them out of hand. One of the wonderful side effects of really listening to those we disagree with is that we can learn things we may never have considered. And the more we listen to others, the more others will have room to listen to us. Let’s keep in mind that we can still be great friends with someone that we have political differences. If our goal on both sides is to make a better society, then we all need to do our part by improving the way we speak to others, the way we discuss our own perspective, and the way we interact with those we disagree with, both online and in-person.
Being able to speak our minds is a right that is enshrined in our Constitution and we must not shy away from the responsibility to do so, or the responsibility to allow others to speak their minds. Debate and differences of opinion is what makes us all stronger, meaning we need to hear all voices. It was Voltaire who once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” If we want to continue to have the right to share our convictions, then we must let others share theirs. Be open to listening to others, without necessarily agreeing with them, in search of a common truth. Let us be constructive, and build on our common ground to create a better way of life for us, our children, and the generations to come.
The alternative is too hard to fathom, a nation at war with itself, keen on becoming less, rather than more. There must be a place for everyone, as long as they are working towards the greater good in our communities. In the end, and it may sound like a cliche to some, we really are all in this together.