When you think that you know exactly what you believe or, worse still, that you know everything you need to know: stop. Find someone who disagrees with you, but who can coherently explain their beliefs through the use of reason. Or who can explain how they feel without resorting to hate-filled rhetoric. And just listen to them.
This is something I've had to do recently, and no, in case you were wondering, it isn't easy. I don't know what the past two years have been, aside from intensely polarizing, but what they felt like was a constriction, with every passing headline, Onion-like real life moment, and political debate drawing tighter around me until I could barely breathe.
When it's us vs. them, we lose half the world. Am I the only person who is grieved by this?
I don't want to miss out on so much that's good and true and beautiful. Because, newsflash, "we," whoever we are, don't have the monopoly on those things. My brother and I will (probably) never see eye to eye ideologically, but today is his birthday, and when I called him he and my dad were helping to distribute food at a food bank. That's something that's good and true, and I wouldn't have it if I were to shun him in the face of our differences.
I've been thinking about this ever since I listened to Glenn Greenwald's interview with Tucker Carlson on the podcast Intercepted (you can find it here at Glenn Greenwald on the New Cold War or via iTunes). Carlson is precisely the sort of person that I'm told I should never listen to - and he absolutely has said things that make me cringe, just to be clear - but he's also not a completely unintelligent asshat speaking solely to fill silence. He said one thing that I keep coming back to because I've rarely heard it put quite so well in conversation*:
"The law of unintended consequences is never gonna be repealed. Like, you don’t know. You think you know what’s gonna happen when you do something, but you really don’t. And so, humility is a prerequisite for wise decision-making. And whenever you have people telling you — people like Max Boot, for example — we know exactly what’s gonna happen when we do this, that’s a tipoff that these are very unwise people who shouldn’t have power."
And I appreciated his ability to articulate exactly why people might feel threatened by immigration:
"And I’ve seen this exact thing happen there [rural Maine], where Catholic Charities or Lutheran Social Services or some group that thinks it’s doing good moves refugees into a depressed community and then leaves. And it’s massively disruptive for the people who live there. Massively. And nobody cares. [...] I feel like the middle of the country is just a dumping ground for refugees. And the point of it, of course, is to make the people facilitating it feel virtuous, and then they never deal with the consequence. So, what about the people who live there?"
The point isn't so much that I'm ultimately going to share Carlson's views. But he makes some solid criticisms that starry-eyed liberals and progressives like myself would do well to heed. Refugee resettlement en masse does tax local infrastructure initially and can be daunting when you've had a homogenous culture for over a hundred years. I'm still stubbornly stuck on the belief that we should welcome people in as long as they need a safe place to flee to, and to hell with the consequences, but I can see how we could be wiser in our procedures and gentler in our rhetoric.
Maybe it doesn't matter much what I, one individual, actually think about any one political issue, at the end of the day (I don't believe this, but maybe). But it goes back to that first quote from the interview, that humility is a prerequisite of wise decision-making. I would take it a step further and say that humility is a prerequisite of wise life-making. You can't consistently make good decisions, build sound relationships, and navigate all the perils and pitfalls of life if you're closed to wise counsel, headstrong, and rigid in your ideas and beliefs. If your beliefs are sound, they will only be sharpened by coming in contact with opposing views and the hard facts of reality. If they are not, then you will fall less painfully: the humble stay close to the earth, rather than building themselves tall soapboxes with no steps to descend by.