Lessons from Friends and Strangers

In my life, I’ve been incredibly lucky. Not only have I had the benefit of a university education, complete with critical thinking, logic, and debate skills. As an adult, I’ve also noticed this is something most people lack. Now, in my own group of close friends, (and internet companions), I’ve been especially fortunate. My friend not only possess (for the most part) fantastic logic and debate skills, but often have vastly different opinions from my own.

This is the key to growth, to success, and to (dare I say it) mental evolution. If we want our mind to encompass more tomorrow than it does today, we need new ideas. We have to expose ourselves to thoughts and opinions that differ from our own. And that’s the rub. Most people are idiots (even most people who agree with me), and that makes it very difficult to WANT to engage them in discourse.

Than, you meet/speak with some people who reignite your faith in humanity. They might not agree with you, they might never agree with you, but they are civil, polite, and in the end, respect you enough to say “You’re wrong, but thanks for the chat”, and with a handshake (virtual or physical) can walk away with mutual respect.

I’ve had one such person in my life for the last while (a friend on facebook I’ll call “Will”), with who I disagree on most points.  Our debates and discussion can be heated, and only rarely end in an agreement. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve learned more not agreeing with Will than I would have imaged possible.

And here I sit, it’s not just Will. I could make a list of people whos respectful and informed debate has made me better, even if it hasn’t changed my mind.

It’s an interesting proposition, to think it important to disagree, but complete agreement is nothing more than stagnation of the mind. Without a challenge our mind will never grow.

But the growing mind must also be willing to accept new ideas, investigate them, and (if warranted) admit they’re wrong, or misinformed. Saying “Looks like I’m wrong” doesn’t hurt. It is the cornerstone of intellectually honest discussions, and the very basis of respect.

The bible (a book I largely view with disdain) says “Pride comes before the fall”. It’s probably the most true statement in the book. Our pride is important, but what we take pride in needs to be relearned.

Find Pride in learning.
Find Pride in expanding your mind.
Find Pride in Growth.

In a recent twitter discussion, I had a chance to put this into practice and see it in practice with one of twitters most high profile voices of, I’m going to say “right” but thats a fairly inadequate interpretation of what is, in essence, a nuanced and interesting socio/economic political view.  It was a fun, lively, debate, and in the end, I was wrong (well, 50% wrong.) They admitted when I was right, I did the same… I hope everyone was improved by the discourse. I know I was.

Really, in the end, that’s all we’ve got as humans. Our ability to learn, adapt, and grow. From the lowest politician, to the great scientists, the human mind is not fundamentally different. Only our willingness to learn from other perspectives, and admit we’re wrong when shown.

It’s the difference between science and religion, growth and stagnation, human and animal.

Never “agree to disagree”. Learn, and grow.

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