Democracy Requires Truly Listening To Those With Whom We Disagree

American democracy is supposed to be based on listening, dialogue among people with differing points of view, and validating people’s diverse experiences. I was taught that the most reasoned and cogent arguments will usually win in a democracy. Not always, but usually.

No person or political party has a corner on truth. I was taught to listen to your opponent’s strongest argument rather than misrepresent their weakest argument as their best. History may eventually prove that they were right and I was wrong.

I am afraid Americans could be loosing one of the essential elements of democracy and good governance. “The spirit of democracy begins with the notion that I might be wrong,” wrote Justice Learned Hand.

In 1944, speaking to a group of newly minted citizens in New York’s Central Park, Judge Learned Hand explained his vision of America’s most basic commitment. “What then is the spirit of liberty?” he asked. “I cannot define it. I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit that weighs their interests alongside its own without bias . . . the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten, that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.” — Hat tip, Michael Gerson.

In that democratic spirit, I seek out compelling or well-written opinions I disagree with. Do you?


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