About two weeks ago, I went to Virginia to visit my mom who I haven’t seen in two years. During my visit, I convinced her and her husband (pops) to go to a vegan festival in Maryland. The festival was easily the only vegan activity we could all attend in a 30-mile radius. It set my expectations high.
But the day came, and it was raining. And not just any type of rainy day, it was torrential. Personally, I didn’t mind. I haven’t seen or felt rain since I moved to California over a year ago. On our way we listened to NPR, and discussed the riches of free speech. I listened with deep attention because the person who was speaking had a palpable cool about speech neutrality and detachment from opinions. She was a woman who had experienced public scorn and sociopolitical backlash for expressing her opinion, yet she was asking her listeners to weaken their grip on trying to be right all the time- to let go. To position ourselves against absolutism.
I’m 34 years of age, and no stranger to disagreements. I’ve been a part of all sorts of disputes and debates. Most of these exchanges were less about understanding than they were about unbending compulsion for being right. When our attention latches onto a single idea, our deeper comprehension of things fade. If you ask me, that’s too high of a price to pay if arrogance makes us believe we are keepers of some absolute truth. We think this truth authorizes us to some incontestable certainty. I guess you can say loosening the grip of a particular conviction poses a real threat to the “certitude” we thought was untested.
Perhaps this is a reflection of our current political terrain, or a sign of authoritarianism marked by our time. Log onto Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and what you see is an intolerance to ambiguity. If you want to include your opinion about anything you need to present your allegiance to a side, or be met with disapproval. Welcome to the “pro or con” generation. Intellect is no longer nourished by diversity, it’s disbarred. My question, in such a spacious place like the internet, to the world: How can we afford to entertain single-issue narratives during a conversation or debate? How is winning greater than understanding?
Perhaps the best case of holding an opinion to affixation is found in our most personal relationships. If a partner “injures” an opinion, we feel demolished. We can react poorly, and often retaliate, with venomous language warranted by the offense. Then, the sediment of unresolved emotional content from previous exchanges lead to a continuum of wounded opinions about each other. Again, the need to be triumphant represents a collapse in communication. And yet the evidence shows that many truths can inhabit a conversation.
I’m absolutely convinced that animal consumption is not only bad for me, but poses a real threat to the planet. This is my truth. But I can also review confirmable statistics and understand that while animal consumption significantly contributes to a deteriorating state of the planet, so do other activities. And this is how I approach outreach, revealing incontestable facts and inviting the prospect to think deeply and challenge themselves. When we do outreach, we challenge opinions that have hardened through time, tradition, culture and personal conviction. Change can be driven or powered by many methods; communication and its effectiveness isn’t limited by one method when we strive for change, but this method certainly allows both parties to exchange meaningful impressions on issues they feel certain to be true.
If there is anything to learn from presenters like Elif Shafak, it is that the truth amasses many things and all reasonable disagreements can recognize the arrival of different answers after investigating the same event. So when we enter a conversation knowing we may hold strong opinions about it, let’s be open about the possibility that the other may hold fractions of the truth that complete the picture. We may not change someone’s opinion on the flick of a switch, and that isn’t a bad thing. The way we think changes largely as a function of continued exposure, loosening the grip of a particular conviction. This makes outreach and activism an opportunity to plant an idea we hope will take long after the exchange.
If you would like to listen to Elif Shafak’s wonderful podcast on NPR’s TED Radio Hour, check the following link: https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/632611360/the-right-to-speak
Si se puede, poco a poco, y un día a la vez.