Editor’s Note: This post is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent The Good Men Project.
Imagine you heard or read this hypothetical passage: “Nobody knows more about politics than I do. A lot of people out there, they just talk. I know them; they don’t know anything. They don’t know me, which is a pity. The fact is, nobody knows more about anything than I do. Look at Hillary Clinton over there. Believe me, I know everything about her. She’s like the rest, she can’t communicate. Well, that’s because she doesn’t have my words. I have the best words. I, alone, can fix everything. And guess what, nobody knows Donald Trump better than I do. So shut up and start listening to me!”
You might have assumed that I was speaking in the voice of U.S. President Donald Trump. I was. But is this voice uniquely his? If you step back from his self-styled eloquence, similar statements could have been said by any stranger over the internet. If you dial back on the bravado, most of us do have that bit of self-satisfaction when it comes to our opinions on the worlds around us.
This is quite a human tendency, since we pride ourselves on our consciousness and necessarily act in accordance with that consciousness. As individuals, it is the only reality that we can see. Yet as social beings, we are forced to confront the realities that other people see. This friction generates discomfort, and we tolerate it to the point when we often either insist the other party is wrong, or fall back on the right to our own opinions.
In both cases, we are defending ourselves from the possibility that we may be wrong. Why do we feel like we must know everything? How is that even possible, when the social world is so complex? There is no single correct solution to a problem, and neither is there a single correct way of approaching a problem. It is presumptuous to think that “I” have it all figured out.
It is a nice pretense to hold onto: an illusion of stability and reliability in a world that is ever-changing. But being a bigot is not a right. The complete rejection of contradicting opinions is not a right, but a need that stems from insecurity. If we mistake this human need as a right, there can only be conflict. If everyone has the right to their own opinions, then no one needs to question their own opinions. No one needs to care whether their opinions are valid or not.—It is valid as long as it is theirs.
It might seem unthinkable to acknowledge this need, because it makes you appear “weak.” But the appearance of weakness does not equate to weakness. It is an act of strength, superior to those who depend on the appearance of strength. It stands for a willingness to learn, to take in new information that the bigots have long refused to. The first thing we reasonable people ought to do is to not mock or tease, but stand up for these strong and self-aware men and women.
Bigots will do well to know that they are not as conscious as they think. A lot of what we take for granted is a result of brainwashing—not only from governments, but also the schools we go to, the news we choose, the family we cannot choose, and the friends who let their judgments loose. The next time you have an instinctive reaction to something or someone, ask yourself: Why? Did something happen before? Who had told me that?
If you don’t know how your opinions came about, how can you be sure that it is yours? What appears most vital to me is that as a people, we should believe in the power of others’ opinions. A different opinion is not necessarily bad, just different. A good opinion is good, no matter who says it. Some opinions may work better in your time and space than others. And finally, opinions are meant to be exchanged, not merely given. If we protect the right of others’ opinions to entering—and not leaving—our ears, then we would have earned the right to our own opinions.
Compare the first speech to this one: I don’t know a lot about politics. A lot of people out there, they don’t talk. I know them; they know many things that I don’t. They don’t know me, and that’s okay. The fact is, nobody can know everything about anything. Look at Hillary Clinton over there. We’ve heard a lot from her, and about her, but have we really stopped to listen to her? Perhaps her words are not the most inspiring. But words aren’t everything. And guess what, I don’t know if Donald Trump is acting for what he sees as right. I only care if we are ready to be wrong. So can we start listening to each other more?
Photo credit: Getty Images