From the moment we learn to talk, we’re asking questions. Why is the sky blue? What’s that smell? Are we there yet? And then, within the span of only about a decade, we’ve satisfied our youthful curiosity and now know it all.
Of course we don’t really know it all; we just mostly think we do. We’ve devolved from curious toddlers to clueless adults — who talk too much, but listen too little.
At no time is the disproportion of talking to listening more acute than during political seasons. Even when we pretend to want to listen and learn, research studies show our reading and viewing habits skew to forums that reinforce our pre-existing views, rather than seek out divergent, let alone objective, news.
We place ourselves in echo chambers where we refuse to accept facts contradicting our own biases, and surround ourselves with media sycophants who tell us exactly what we want to know. We rarely ask questions anymore; and when we do it’s done less to learn than to mock those who disagree with our beliefs.
For the many political ideologues, the goal is to advocate and proselytize. Except to convince someone to agree with your point of view, you must first listen to their opinions and show that you respect their position. Moreover, you must be curious and ask questions; encourage them to convince you. Doing less is being intellectually lazy, and solipsistic.
The rule of debate club and the art of persuasion — like the warning of the Chinese General Sun Tzu in The Art of War — is to know your opposition as well as you know yourself. Anything less is ignorant and arrogant and no match for knowledge.
When we don’t see the big picture and are dismissive of those whose strokes don’t blend with ours, any hope of consensus fades.
The smugness or pretentiousness of assuming others naturally share your views is an idea psychologists refer to as the “false-consensus bias.” When others do disagree, they are dismissed as being out of touch or mocked as clueless,” author Sean Blanda noted in his essay “The ‘Other Side’ Is Not Dumb” (Medium, 1-7-16). He warned of misconception of becoming increasingly convinced that everyone shares our world view and that our ranks are growing when they aren’t. Rejecting the possibility that people who don’t believe what we believe could be right is the opposite of genuine intellectual curiosity, the height of political conceit. Winston Churchill said, “The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes.”
The end game should not be to mock those who disagree. In doing so, they entrench their views rather than open their minds. “When we attack the person, we’ll never get through to their beliefs,” Blanda advised. “The best way to ‘win’ an argument is to separate a person from their position.”
Curiosity is like the shark. It has to constantly feed and move forward or it dies. For the sake of longevity and intelligence, it is better late than never to rediscover our childish curiosity, to pursue knowledge, gain perspective, and occasionally change minds, including our own.