Most of us cannot count the number of times we’ve heard the phrase “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.” I remember the first time this was said to me— I was very young, arguing with my older sister about something trivial like what kind of chocolate is superior. The argument devolved into a screaming match, and I ended up in tears. In an effort to console me, my mom told me this infamous phrase, which to my five year old self, seemed like a revolutionary idea. Since then, I find myself thinking about this whenever I am in an argument.
This, of course, is much easier said than done. In the world today, it almost seems as though this idea has lost all value. People with differing political views are quick to personally attack each other. On social media, influencers shy away from voicing their opinions in fear of being “cancelled.” Casual discourse spirals into angry fights. Individuals who are easily offended are dismissed as “snowflakes” while people who are not politically correct are deemed as ignorant. Admittedly, even I have gotten into several fights over contentious topics rather than keeping an open mind and hearing the other person out. I have held on tightly to my rigid views, and neglected to question my own beliefs, regardless of the fact that usually things are not black and white. There is always a reason to listen to the other side.
One of the biggest issues with the way that we converse with others is that we often talk just to respond. Rather than truly absorbing what the other person is saying, we prepare our responses in our head. Instead of viewing it as a conversation that gives us the opportunity to listen, learn and grow as people, we view it as a situation where we must prove ourselves and crush our opposition— we argue without a goal. We listen to only what we choose, usually what we know we will agree with, rather than pushing ourselves to make the uncomfortable decision of listening to a completely differing opinion. We insist on having the freedom to voice our own opinions, but what use is that when conversations are no longer meaningful? What do we gain when we are all talking, but no one is listening?
The landscape of current politics echoes this sentiment. In a highly polarized America, Republicans blame Democrats for seemingly every issue, and Democrats blame Republicans for the same. When the President of the United States does not agree with a fellow politician’s views, he takes it upon himself to attack their character on Twitter. He dismisses any arguments against his beliefs and resorts to cheap insults to defend himself. One notable example includes his infamous “nasty woman” remark towards his presidential opponent Hillary Clinton in 2016. For me, the mark of a great leader is his or her ability to listen. Perhaps Donald Trump’s inability to do exactly this is one of the reasons that many are unimpressed with his leadership.
It is undoubtedly important to speak up and voice one’s opinion. But, I believe that the most courageous thing one can do in today’s world is listen carefully, with intention, to arguments that they may have dismissed in the past. To engage in discussions with an open mind, and the desire to truly grow and expand one’s preexisting beliefs. To be able to admit when they have changed their mind.
Talk show host Larry King famously said, “I remind myself every morning: nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” There is no harm that comes from listening to another person’s opinion. Best case scenario, you consider a new perspective, put your point across strongly, and both people come away from a productive conversation with new, evolved ideas. Worst case scenario, you walk away from the conversation with a renewed certainty in your own beliefs, knowing that you still align firmly with your views.
It goes without saying that sometimes people are misinformed, misled and sometimes, simply ignorant. However, listening carefully enables us to understand why one believes what they do. It allows us to empathize, recognizing that maybe their background, socioeconomic status, gender, age, race or a myriad of other factors influence the way they view the world.
The world that we live in today is divided in seemingly every way. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we view divergence in opinion positively, as something that can make us more human, rather than something that drives us apart.
At this point in history, we must all take the time to listen to each other, grow from that, and in some cases, agree to disagree. We must each play a role in making the world the way that we want it to be, one that truly hears all people, regardless of their differences.
Aadya Aryal is the Features’ Editor of The Woodstocker
Edited by Janvi Poddar