Why it’s good to read people you disagree with
If you want to cultivate and refine your understanding of your own worldview, it’s important to study the worldview of others.
Photo by Tarik Browne
I discovered this when I first began studying political philosophy. Reading the likes of John Locke, Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault I would ask myself: what similarities and what differences do we have in how we see the world?
I was surprised to find out that there was always something I could agree or empathise with in another person’s perspective (a lesson I learned from Atticus Finch, Mr Gove!).
There was usually an aspect of each perspective that troubled me or caused tension, and that tension helped me to develop a sense of what I believe in, who I really am.
For example, when I began looking at conservatism: the idea of the small state and political pragmatism, I could see glimmers of value in that point of view. Though I’m far from conservative, politically, being exposed to this worldview has enhanced and sharpened my thinking.
Today I find this practise invaluable. When I read the perspective of others, however different from my own, they help me to harness my focus, or remind me of blind spots I should pay more attention to.
In Writing and Music
This idea applies to any medium that is used to carry a message.
Another example for me is Douglas Coupland, the novelist and artist. I don’t see the world entirely as he does, but the way he weaves his love for the environment into many of his novels compels me not to forget its importance (see Generation A or Shampoo Planet).
I wouldn’t necessarily choose to back the same causes as Ani Difranco, but her songwriting stirs up inside me anger at the way women are often treated in this world.
Frans Kafka wrote:
I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?…the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to.
Writing that merely affirms our perspective of the world is meaningless.
If we want to be change makers, we need to hone our thinking and refine our ideas.
Exposure to conflicting and contrasting values helps us in this process.
It also helps us to avoid demonising people just because they have a different outlook on life.
It’s why I sometimes choose to read books I know I will find irritating, like The Fountainhead.
How about you? Are there people you read or listen to who you disagree with, but who help to refine your worldview?