In the past two decades, I have been dumped by 2 friends who disagreed with my political opinions. The first because he didn’t like who I voted for in a presidential election; the other because I refused to sign a petition supporting a political cause I disagreed with. At first I was hurt because I had been friends with both for many years; and I have always subscribed to Thomas Jefferson’s view: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
Eventually I learned that the breakups said more about them than it did about me.
But, what I also learned was that, even if I could never come into agreement with someone, if I examined their viewpoint in depth, I would find the very activity of it stimulated creative thought. Isaac Asimov noted, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
It’s like clearing clutter from your garage, closet or desk — it opens up space for new things to come into your life. I interpret that “light” Asimov is speaking of as all the new connections you’ll be able to make, the new ideas you’ll be able to form, when you expose yourself to information you’re not familiar with.
Ideas come from synthesizing 2 or more existing concepts into something brand new. The more concepts you have to consider, the more new combinations you can make.
When should you delve deeper into a contrary viewpoint? Whether it’s global warming, abortion, guns, animal rights, government healthcare, GMOs, or the New World Order, when you feel so strongly about your position that your knee-jerk reaction is to reject it out of hand, then you should spend some time checking your premises. British philosopher, Bertrand Russell put it this way, “The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holders lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately.”
I disagree with Russell that passion lacks rational conviction — I believe passion is what drives us to be creative — but exploring your own passionate beliefs is a good place to start. You may even find that your precious beliefs are based on fallacies or false evidence. Author Harlan Ellison, says, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”
And, while you’re fact checking your beliefs, keep in mind Ayn Rand’s words, “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”
I’m not suggesting that you give up your opinions or attempt to change them by this activity. The purpose of this activity is to force yourself to get a different perspective. Gaining a different perspective (in other words: regarding something in a new way) is the key to stimulating creative thought. Pick up any book on how to think creatively, and you’ll find that every exercise offered has 1 goal: to force you to get a different perspective.
Allow your friends with the contrary views to speak their mind. Encourage them to express their beliefs in great detail. By doing this, you are likely to strengthen your relationship with them. Studies have shown that sharing your opinion activates the brain’s reward system which produces dopamine and makes us feel good. By making that person feel good, they will like you better, and then they may be more open to hearing your opinion.
As part of this exercise ask yourself: What is my friend’s motivation for having this opinion? What is their goal? Putting yourself in the position of another is the beginning of empathy. You may find that you both have the same goals — such as peace and prosperity for all — just different approaches for achieving them. Victor Hugo wrote, “Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.”
A willingness to make yourself uncomfortable by researching contrary opinions will put you in touch with your feelings and help you understand what your own motivations are in the opinions you keep. Best of all, the new information you uncover will prepare you to recognize opportunities you would never have imagined otherwise.
Go on — open that publication that makes you cringe and read, read, read.