Though I could still get worked up in the heat of a good discussion, I learned the value of listening to the other side's point of view and taking their arguments under consideration. And if I may be perfectly honest, attempting to understand the opposing mindset often gave me more solid ground to stand on in arguing against it. I can't think of a particular instance when my convictions were completely changed by discussion or debate, but I can think of many, many ways in which listening to and attempting to understand the views of others allowed me to think of the issue in a new light and see things I hadn't considered before. (And in turn, craft a more rational and persuasive argument about why their position totally wrong--ha! I kid, it wasn't always like that.)
Perhaps most importantly, the sharing of ideas and opinions with others allowed me to solidify my own values, especially in my own heart and mind. So many times, we believe in things, argue for or against policies or practices, and defend or attack the actions of others without really understanding the underlying issue at all. My experiences in college and graduate school taught me to investigate and consider the opposing viewpoints, to decide where my convictions lie, and then to take a stand and embrace my beliefs. (Do you want to hire me as the poster child for a liberal arts education yet?)
I realize I am not expressing this very eloquently, but I truly believe that you can only argue validly and rationally when you understand exactly what it is you're arguing against. Know and understand your opponent so you can better defeat your opponent...or something to that effect. It is in the defending and explaining of my position that I become most secure in my own beliefs.
Thank you to all of those who argued rationally, analytically, and thoughtfully with me during those years (and in the years since, for that matter). Whether you were on my side or a side I vehemently opposed, you played a part in helping me shape the convictions I place my faith in every single day. Thank you for helping me see the other side and to appreciate the value and wisdom in loving and understanding others, even when we blatantly disagree. Thank you to the professors who encouraged us to think deeply and embrace and expand on our positions. Thank you especially to Dr. H., who played devil's advocate in every single instance and who taught me to investigate an issue from every angle imaginable. I try my best to pass these same foundations on to my students.
In light of all I've seen and heard over the past few weeks, I am more grateful than ever for the ability to recognize a good, intellectual argument from one that is better left untouched. After many years, I see the wisdom in knowing the difference between the two. I understand the truth that there is no way to "win" (or compromise, or have a good conversation) with people who refuse to consider anything apart from their own ingrained beliefs and who will never even listen to, much less try to understand, the opposing point of view. This kind of person will not listen to reason, has very little empathy or compassion for the people with differing convictions, and in truth, probably has only the simplest understanding of the issue in question. (Yes, I'm generalizing and over-simplifying, but I've seen it, and I've seen it on both sides of the fence--or the political spectrum, if you will.)
And just in case you're wondering...YES, in this particular instance, I am referring most specifically to 99% of the arguments I see in my Facebook news feed. Though it takes all my strength and willpower, and though I often gripe and make my points (loudly) to those who have the misfortune to be around me at the time I read something incredibly inaccurate, insensitive, and/or thoughtless, I will NOT engage in that kind of discourse. With rare exception, there is no rational thought, consideration, or respect going on in those conversations, and any time I choose to devote to them is time wasted.
I WILL, however, use the "hide" button. Liberally, at times.