“We can learn from anyone, there’s always a clue,” says David Gurteen of Gurteen Knowledge Cafe.
Occasionally a reader of my knowledge letter takes issue with one of my posts or quotations that reference certain other people or their ideas or even their tone. One or two readers have even stopped subscribing to my knowledge letter at the mere mention of someone’s name.
Typically, they “do not like” the person in question. They consider them bad, evil, stupid, ignorant, or ill-behaved. This is especially true when it comes to political figures. They ask me why I am giving credence to that person and their ideas. Sometimes I agree with their sentiments, other times not, but that is not the point.
There are two principal reasons I write about or quote people I don’t entirely agree with, whose writing tone I find aggressive, or whose behavior or ideas I find repugnant.
We need to understand each other better
In writing, speaking, or conversation, I feel it essential to draw attention to people with contrary beliefs.
I want to tell the other side of the story — not censor it, even if it opens me up for criticism.
I wish my readers or listeners to weigh the evidence, not just agree with me. I don’t wish to play safe and have them agree with me on everything.
Being exposed to alternative viewpoints is how we more fully understand the world’s complexities and, maybe, more importantly, our fellow human beings.
We can learn from anyone
We can learn from anyone. A person’s ideas are rarely totally bad/false. There is always some signal, and that signal is often worth searching for.
We can categorize people’s ideas in one of three ways. Each category, in its fashion, helps us learn and make better sense of the world.
- The ideas with which we agree. The person gives us more in-depth insight.
- The ideas with which we disagree. The person provokes our thinking by stimulating us to reflect on why we disagree.
- The ideas that make no sense or that don’t convince us. The person provokes our thinking, and we research and reflect on the ideas.
We should show respect for people whom we believe are speaking in good faith, and although we may not agree with everything they say (or even anything they say) and even if we don’t fully understand what they say if they provoke our thinking, learning, and sense-making we should take them seriously.
Just because there is a great deal of what we might consider noise, we should not disregard the signal. Wilbur Wright understood this.
No truth is without some mixture of error, and no error so false but that it possesses no element of truth.
If a man is in too big a hurry to give up an error, he is liable to give up some truth with it, and in accepting the arguments of the other man he is sure to get some errors with it.
Honest argument is merely a process of mutually picking the beams and motes out of each other’s eyes so both can see clearly…
Men become wise just as they become rich, more by what they save than by what the receive.
After I get a hold of a truth I hate to lose it again, and I like to sift all the truth out before I give up an error.”
We can learn from anyone. The point of learning is not to affirm our beliefs but to challenge and question them and evolve them.