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Reading, Hearing, and Processing Information You Don’t Like

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What do you do when you come across information you don’t want to hear, don’t like, and/or disagree with?

For some of us, that doesn’t happen very often. It isn’t too difficult to avoid people or media that don’t fit our particular worldview. Whether that means carefully choosing friends, or only listening to certain talk radio stations, or only watching certain TV channels, or only visiting certain websites, or only accepting certain Facebook friends, we are usually pretty good at filtering out the unknown or undesirable according to our own person beliefs.

While I can’t exactly blame people for doing that—it’s an easy way to stay within your “comfort zone”—I do believe it is an unfortunate loss for those people. Information that doesn’t fit with your worldview can’t hurt you unless you are argumentatively weak enough to suffer damage when presented with an opposing viewpoint. If you are afraid of listening, then you probably can’t back up your own beliefs, and you really ought either to be challenged or else to spend some time fleshing out your worldview post haste.

I am not implying that anyone who avoids some information is by definition afraid of hearing it. I know this is not true. You might want to avoid some outside influences because you are still trying to figure out exactly what you believe. You might have already heard a particular viewpoint, and you don’t feel the need to spend time hearing it again at the moment.

However, I propose that if you only think you disagree with a particular viewpoint, but you haven’t heard it in its entirety yet, then it is not a good idea to dismiss it or make any assumptions.

We do this with politics, economics, history, religion, sports, and just about anything else that can be argued in any way. It is chiefly visible with politics, and slightly less so with religion (less only because many people seem to be more willing to tolerate disagreements, though under the surface they are often even more dogmatic by comparison).

If you want to come to a well-founded and logical conclusion on a topic, it is critical to fully listen to people who disagree with you. This should give you an opportunity to identify whether:

  1. Their end goal is good or not
  2. They have thought through their argument
  3. They have logical fallacies in their argument
  4. They have made assumptions with any of their information

I often read articles that I empathize with but do not agree with. I find that when I disagree with someone, it usually isn’t because they want an end result that I don’t (though this does happen occasionally). It’s usually because they have made assumptions that I don’t believe are correct, or they have jumped to a conclusion that doesn’t follow from their foundation. In the latter case, it doesn’t always mean they are wrong, but it does mean they are missing some information and at least may be wrong because of it.

Sometimes though, listening completely to an opposing viewpoint can have a different affect: it can do any one (or more) of the above things to your own argument. There have been many times when I read or heard something that illuminated my own logical fallacies, incorrect assumptions, or missing information. If I had dismissed the opposing argument off-hand just because I thought I understood it or felt sure enough in my own viewpoint, I would still be wrong.

At the same time, I always believe that I could still be wrong.

There are no complex philosophical areas of my life where I am 100% confident that I am right. I am pretty sure in a few cases, but in many others, I only have some basic ideas or opinions that are incomplete. Whether they are right or not, I don’t feel confident enough to argue either way because I simply don’t know. It is in these areas that I am most eager to listen to anyone else’s viewpoint. But even in areas where I do feel confident, I am still always willing to listen to someone who disagrees, because it means I will either further solidify my argument through logical defense, or else I will learn where my argument is weak and then educate myself—possibly changing my opinion as a result.

The moment you believe you have the absolute correct answer to any question, you stop learning new things about it. This can be a problem even in areas as static and concrete as mathematics, which is about as absolute as you can possibly get in this world. People are still discovering new things about mathematics because they never assume that they know 100% of the existing solutions. 99.9%, perhaps, but never 100%.

I am not advocating relativism here, or saying that your worldview (especially religion) must always be in a state of flux. I am only saying that it is a good idea always to keep your mind open to challenges.

If your viewpoint is right, then you will be able to defend it.

If it is incomplete, you will be able to complete it.

And if it is wrong, then you will be willing to change it.

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