A true sign of intelligence isn’t how well you can explain your perspective, it’s how well you can articulate the perspective that opposes yours.
I don’t care how well you can articulate your argument, show me how the other person is also partially right and I’ll listen. Show me that you’ve actually considered views from other people and I’ll be far more likely to give you my attention.
But hang on, that last sentence isn’t as easy as it sounds.
What does it mean to actually consider another person’s perspective? Most of the time when we say we’re doing this we’re not — we’re just trying to show them how what they’re saying is wrong. We’re strategizing, we’re scheming, and we’re definitely not walking a mile in their shoes.
Actually considering what someone is saying looks like dropping our agenda and being willing to change our view, but who wants to do that?
Changing our view on big topics like gun control, climate change or eating animals may make us a social outcast, and it may get us uninvited to the next vegan potluck — and who wants to miss out on the snuggles at vegan potlucks? Not me!
No, we would much rather stay in our bubble, because here we’ve gotten good at pretending we’re cultured. We engage in “debates”, but it’s really just us disagreeing on what we’re going to do about the injustice, never stopping to question the injustice itself.
A New Standard
I’d like to suggest a standard that would be completely game changing if we applied it to debates and conversations.
If you can’t articulate both sides of an argument in a way that has both sides feeling seen and understood, you should stop the conversation and go do more research.
For example, if you are debating a Trump voter (and let’s say you’re a liberal) and you can’t articulate that other person’s position in a way that has them say “yeah, that’s it” then you have no business trying to convince them of anything. You can continue the conversation with them, but your goal should be to more clearly understand their position, not change it.
How futile is it for us to try and change someone’s view when we have no idea what they actually believe in the first place? We will never get anywhere like that. If you can’t see anything good or useful in what another person is saying, your job is to listen and ask more questions, not to try and persuade them.
And yet, everything I’m saying is obvious when we stop and think about it.
So often I see people who think they are debating, but they’re really just wanting friction. It’s like online road rage, something triggers them and they use it as a chance to unleash all the hurt they’ve been carrying around. This isn’t moving the conversation forward, and it’s certainly not winning anyone over.
If our goal is to have people see things from our perspective, we are wasting our time if we don’t first understand where the other person is coming from.