A Look At Both Sides

This is a skill many people, myself included, struggle with. No one wants to look at the world from someone else’s viewpoint. It can be uncomfortable, deeply unsettling, and, depending on whose point of view you’re exploring, it can also be absolutely infuriating (Fox News, looking at you guys); now, thanks to Google and Facebook’s algorithms, you can even start seeing ads you really don’t want to see by taking a step out of your comfort zone into another’s. Nevertheless, it is important for functional adults to read and listen to people with whom we disagree.

Starting with the most self-serving of reasons, you can’t prepare counterarguments when confronted if you don’t know what your opponents are saying about your beliefs. Not just that, in order to convince someone else to your side of the equation, you need to understand where your opponent is coming from. To do that, you need to take a step outside yourself. This is an essential life skill called empathy, and is one many adults fail to cultivate because they think it makes them appear weak. On the contrary, being empathetic is just as self-serving as knowing your opponents’ arguments in order to defend yourself. If you want to interact with the world at large, you need a well-developed sense of empathy in order to avoid becoming That Asshole. That Asshole tends to have unpleasant experiences with the outside world, for himself and for everyone he encounters.

Furthermore, by looking at the world through someone else’s eyes, we are honing another essential life skill in which too few adults are proficient: critical thinking. Contrary to what is evidently a common fear, judging by the popularity of the phrase “Don’t be so open-minded your brains fall out,” it is possible to expose yourself to another person’s viewpoint without completely abandoning your morals and personal beliefs. It is also possible to hear another person’s view and then realize that your own stance is flawed and misguided and in need of adjustment. Doing so does not make you weak or stupid.

When it comes to reading opposing opinions, empathy, and critical thinking, I think my literary criticism professor (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten; please forgive me, it’s been a decade since I took his class) summed it up most succinctly: “If it feels like bullshit, it’s probably bullshit.” It is your job as a functioning adult to figure out what it is and why it’s bullshit.


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