…The liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill once explained that, “The greatest orator, save one, of antiquity, has left it on record that he always studied his adversary’s case with as great, if not with still greater, intensity than even his own.” Mill held that unless we carefully study the views of those with whom we disagree, we will never really know what they’re right or wrong about. “He who knows only his own side of the case,” Mill wrote in his 1859 book On Liberty, “knows little of that.” Our opponents could be right for all we know or care, because they may know a fact or offer an argument we’ve never thought to consider. And even if they aren’t right, Mill points out that specks of truth may exist among their falsehoods which can guide our minds in new directions.
Recently, I arrived at a moment of introspection about a curious aspect of my own behavior. When I disagree with a conservative friend or colleague on some political issue, I have no fear of speaking my mind. I talk, they listen, they respond, I talk some more, and at the end of it we get along just as we always have.