Both Sides Now

New Year’s is coming and the new year is a time for resolutions.

I was partway through drafting what was becoming a tedious and forced New Year’s resolution post, when I found this fantastic article by Ross Douthat in my twitter feed.

In the article, Douthat urges his readers to not read people who they agree with, but to branch out and read articles from the other side.

If you are a liberal, read conservative publications. If you are a conservative, read liberal ones. If you are a libertarian conservative, read what the social conservatives have to say and vice-versa.

Douthat urges his readers to expand their horizons.

As one of the few conservatives in the liberal leaning New York Times newsroom, I’m sure Douthat’s own perspectives have been widened by his colleagues. I’m also sure that Douthat has widened the perspectives of his colleagues.

More than Just Politics

Douthat’s column is primarily about political issues, but I think reading things that you disagree is helpful in all walks of life.

For Catholics, read both the conservative National Catholic Register and the liberal National Catholic Reporter. Read Protestants (of all denominations), non-Catholics, and even Atheists.

Listen to music that you don’t normally listen to. I’m still not a fan of Country music, but I found that I really like “Alternative Country”. Apparently, it’s what they call “Southern Rock” these days.

Read authors you usually don’t. Read blogs from perspectives different than yours. Take on something new and push your comfort levels.

The Advantage of Expanding Your Beliefs

Besides simply learning new things, reading those you disagree with gives you several specific advantages over just reading people like you.

  1. You can better see the strengths of other beliefs.
  2. You can better see the weaknesses of other beliefs.
  3. You can better see the true strengths of your own beliefs. It might not be what you think.
  4. You can better see the weaknesses of your own beliefs. You might have missed something.
  5. You may learn a better way of thinking about what you belief. You might not have the best explanation.
  6. You can see what is really important to the other side.

This last item is particularly important. Frequently people who disagree are talking past each other. They have different values and priorities, but assume the other side has the same priorities they do.

In the book “Getting to Yes“, William Ury tells the story of two sisters who were arguing over how to split an orange. Eventually the girls agreed to divide the orange in half. One girl ate half the orange and threw the peel away. The other girl needed orange zest (the peel) to make a cake and threw the fruit away.

Both girls lost because neither took the time to understood what the other wanted.

If you are trying to persuade someone or work an agreement with someone, then knowing what the other side values and believes allows you to craft your message in away that will be better received. Seek to understand so that you can be understood.

Maybe Congress could learn a thing or two.

Opening Your Mind Key to Seeking Truth

Looking at things from different perspectives isn’t just to help you build a better case or make you more persuasive or a better negotiator. It is critical part of seeking the Truth. As one blogger writes:

The way I see it is this: Every person in the world believes something different. There may be vast amounts of overlap in two people’s beliefs, but there will always be some way that their understanding or their interpretations or their manifestations of those interpretations differ in how they live their lives. So what are the chances that every single thing in your unique belief system is 100% accurate?

. . .

For those who point to a religious belief system as the source of all Truth, I ask, is God so very limited that it is impossible He would reveal Himself in new ways? Does He care so little for me that it is impossible for the Holy Spirit to be guiding my heart?

I reject the notion that all Truth is already known, revealed, understood, and explained in a singular belief system. This is why I think of myself as a Truth-seeker and not a Truth-knower. Because I know that I will always be operating on incomplete information and that I need to be open to new knowledge and new revelation. I need to continually re-evaluate my beliefs in light of not only my own experiences but those of everyone I know, and as I re-read the Bible, and as science discovers new things.

To my mind, I can never get closer to Truth and to living the life that God wants me to lead if I think that I already have all the answers and I ignore everything that doesn’t fit with those beliefs.

I don’t always agree with this blogger. But I enjoy her blog, and no matter what I think of what she posts, she always makes me think. And yes, she has changed my mind about a few things and opened my eyes to perspectives I hadn’t considered.

Which brings me closer to Truth and gives me a better idea of how best to live my life.

And makes me a better blogger. 🙂

So, what have you experienced that has expanded your horizons or made you think in a new way?

– James

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