I hesitate to use the word “enemies” to describe those of differing opinions but that is often how we think of anyone of alternative perspectives. Many of the issues discussed in mainstream culture, media, and life in general are polarizing in nature. The headline-crazy, for-profit-driven media only drives the wedge between us deeper to the point where we believe that any issue can only have two sides: ours (right) and theirs (wrong). We vilify anyone and everyone who disagrees with us, believing that we are the enlightened ones who see the truth, while those who disagree are ignorant or stupid if not intentionally evil. This cynical way of thinking only exacerbates every problem in the world as it precludes us from any inclination to involve ourselves in meaningful dialogue and resolution. The moment we see things in black and white and refuse to empathize with others, we lose the ability to enact change, and suffering endures. What if rather than hate those who disagree with us, we tried to love and understand them? What if we ask ourselves what we can do to make the world a better place instead of blaming others? What if instead of trying to change others, or expecting them to change, we looked at ways to improve ourselves? If everybody, on any side of any issue, thought with compassion rather than hatred and pride, how quickly do you think problems would get resolved? My guess is we would be fast tracked towards a utopian existence.
I am not suggesting that anybody give up their values or their principles so that we can compromise and find harmony. What I am suggesting is that we seek to understand those with whom we disagree, and look for the value within their concerns. First and foremost, it is necessary to understand that those who disagree with us are NOT inherently evil. Every single person’s thoughts, personality, ideas, and opinions (their consciousness if you will) depends on their environment, the type of thinking they are exposed to, their own experiences, their own perceptions, and the way they rationalize and understand the world around them. I do not believe that anybody, or very few at least, sets out to be evil or views themselves as “the bad guy” or “on the other side.” We all do our best to make sense of the world according to our own abilities and limitations. So when somebody disagrees with you about a particular subject, do not think of them as wrong, but instead recognize that they think the way they do because of who they are and where they come from. Recognize the same thing in yourself and reflect about why exactly it is that you have certain beliefs and see if you can come to any sort of common-ground or mutual understanding with those of differing ideas.
Let us take religion for example. If you are from the southeastern United States, like I am, chances are you are a devout Christian. You believe that Jesus is the son of God, who died for your sins and that acceptance of Christ as your savior is your way into eternal salvation. This is the way you were brought up and you never questioned that. Now consider the other side. Let us imagine someone of the same age and gender in Saudi Arabia. They are likely raised as a devout Muslim, believe that Mohammed is the prophet of God/Allah, and that the way into heaven is through following the path laid out through the Qur’an. This young Saudi was raised to believe this and never questioned it. At surface level, yes, these are two people in disagreement. Such disagreements have and continue to lead us into war as both such individuals would be hell-bent on proving the correctness of their particular brand of theology, ironically by killing the other and forcing them to convert. What of instead of vilifying one another and trying to impress their own beliefs upon the other, these two individuals took the time to recognize the common ground they share. Both religions teach peace at their core; both are aimed at reducing the amount of suffering in the world and of leading to a fulfilling eternal afterlife. They do not agree on everything, but they are two sides of the same coin. Furthermore, recognize the fact that had the American been placed in the position of the Saudi, that they would have been a Muslim and that the Saudi would be a devout Christian were their birthplaces flipped. It should be something of a revelation to realize respective beliefs that these two hypothetical individuals so dogmatically support are almost exclusively determined by where and when they were born. If the same two individuals were born not in the present time but in the same geographic place but 2,000 years prior, then the Saudi would likely be Jewish and the American would be an ardent believer in the local Native American religion.
I emphasize the notion of religion in this because it easily articulates the absurdity of fighting over religion. Consider the circumstances by which we have come to our own beliefs and recognize that those of other faiths got to their perspective through much the same fashion. Also, recognize the inherent good that lies within each belief. Doing this allows us the opportunity to embrace and appreciate one another rather than look for arbitrary reasons why we should hate one another.
Similar corollaries could be made through any number of issues. Take gun control. I have written before and I will say here again that I firmly believe that we in America have a serious problem with guns and that unchecked regulation of the second amendment is a large part of that problem. My opinion is that until we repeal or at least amend the second amendment, that America will continue to lead the world in gun deaths. Many people disagree with me. They believe that the second amendment is a right and that it must be preserved, and that whatever the problem with guns, amending the second amendment is not the solution. I have often found myself highly critical and even insulting of this point of view and I am sure there are those who would think me un-American and over-idealistic for my views. Rather than hold those with different views in contempt, why don’t I try understanding them. Rather than view the pro-gun rights crowd as evil and ignorant I try to understand them. Where are they coming from? Well, most of them probably enjoy their own responsible use of guns and aren’t willing to sacrifice that. They may also have an inherent distrust of our federal government and as such are not willing to accept any sort of restrictions that said government may try to enforce upon their lives. No, my opinion does not change as I rationalize through this mindset, but at least it leaves me in a position of greater understanding and compassion. By thinking thusly, I am unable to say that I hate the other side for their beliefs. I still disagree, but I understand that on the other side is a human just like me, and that they are arriving at their beliefs according to who they are, where they are from, and how they have experienced life, just as I am doing the same. The moment either one of us becomes convinced of our own moral superiority, we demonize one another and lose any attempt at working towards a resolution. There are even those subjects which we are absolutely convinced of our correctness. I guarantee that the moment you condescend and take a moral high ground with others, you lose any chance at progress. Be empathetic, attentive, and understanding. Only in this way can we see growth.
For many of these topics it is unlikely that there will ever be any sort of consensus opinion. There are simply too many people, with differing perspectives, experiences, and attitudes to ever expect unanimity. To expect this is to be unrealistic. What we can do though is generate compassion for one another and respect each other for our differences. Let us be mindful of the fact that our own experiences, knowledge, dispositions, and such have generated our opinions and that much as they may make sense to us, we do not have the right to compel or expect others to agree. Before we go vilifying someone else, or labelling them as selfish, conceited, stupid, or wrong, take the time to understand them. There goes a person just like you who is doing their very best to make sense of the world to the best of their abilities, and who wants to live a happy and joyous existence the same way you do. If we make the effort to express compassion rather than contempt for those with whom we disagree, then we make the world a happier place. Rather than expecting others to adopt their beliefs to our own, let us take the time to recognize potential faults in our own perception, and let us search for the common that unites us rather than the differences that divide us.