I have one rule of thumb for unfriending folks on facebook. If you make a threat of physical harm to me or someone on my friends list, you’re gone. Otherwise, I’ll put up with almost anything. Apparently, this is far from the norm, as I’m regularly asked why I keep x, y or z person in my list when they express opinions that someone else on my list considers hateful or dismissive.
And that’s something that happens pretty often, given that on my facebook friends list, I have conservative muslims and progressive muslims. I have friends who are sunni, shia, sufi, ahmedi, christian, jew, hindu, wiccan, atheist. and god only knows what else. My list includes feminists and those who believe in patriarchy; advocates for racial equality, some who are unaware of their own racism, and even a few who are proudly racist. I have friends who are gay, lesbian, bi, poly and, trans, as well as some who are homo- and trans-phobic.
Why tolerate all those different points of views and opinions, even those I object to, even those expressed in terms that I personally find contemptible? Because I believe that diversity immensely enriches our lives. And the price of that diversity is discomfort. You can’t have one without the other.
Diversity brings so many blessings to our lives, it’s worth the cost. I enjoy foods from across the globe. I love when my friends wear clothing or hair styles particular to their heritage, and at times have fun wearing outfits I’ve been gifted by them. I like to hear about different family traditions and holidays, and to share my own. I enjoy music and literature from every culture. Exposing myself to them makes my life so much better.
Even more, I am fascinated by how my diverse group of friends relates to the same life events like the birth of twins, the passage of time, or the death of a loved one in different ways. How they understand the Divine (or lack thereof). How they deal with the challenges, joy and travails of life. Their experiences, their understanding both broadens my own point of views and helps me clarify what it is I truly believe and why.
In the best scenario I learn more about what I believe and come away with better, deeper understanding of that belief. Daoism’s wisdom on detachment has deepened my understanding of the Prophet Muhammad’s statement that we should be like traveler’s in the world. Hinduism’s pantheon of Gods enriches my understanding of Islam’s 100 names of Allah. Kant’s theories of morality deeply impact how I read the Qur’an and how I make moral judgments.
Better ReasoningConversely, listening to my facebook friends who hold different points of view on politics, lgbt rights, feminism, and social issues like police violence and racial empowerment helps me reconfirm my beliefs and my commitment to acting upon them. When I hear arguments that affirmative action is wrong because it discriminates against whites, the flaws in those arguments bolster not only my confidence in my own opinion that affirmative action is needed, but also my determination to continue advocating for affirmative action programs. Similarly, seeing people argue that since women who want to be actors know that Hollywood expects them to sleep their way into roles, they really don’t have any right to complain about being victims of sexual predation, fuels my commitment to promoting a feminist agenda and the belief that no one ever deserves sexual harassment and abuse.
Equally important, listening to others opinions and reasoning challenges me to understand and validate my own opinions more deeply. Their different understanding of human society and morality challenge me to be internally consistent, to consider why I believe what I believe and whether their beliefs are superior to my own. It encourages me to understand the wider implications of my point of view, and to see how it creates ripples across society that I may not have considered previously. Listening even to opinions I consider misguided and harmful helps me develop my arguments against those points of view, and to understand the human conditions that lead to people holding those views. Engaging with those different opinions on a deep level, helps me to be able to effectively argue on behalf of my own ideals and points of view.
Change is Good
Finally, I firmly believe that change is good, from the trivial to the profound. Learning a new recipe, enjoying a new song, discovering a new writer to read… new interests are great and make our lives more fun and engaging. Learning from our mistakes helps us avoid the making the same mistakes over and over again. Gaining a new understanding of how life works is a measure of individual growth to be treasured. In order to do so, we have to admit that someone else may have a better point of view, a better answer to a question, or a more valid moral stance than our own.
Over my lifetime, I have changed fundamental beliefs about the world, the nature of the divine, and human relationships numerous times. Some of that is because I now believe my former ideas were simply wrong. Some of that is that I have deepened my understanding of what was once a more shallow theory or point of view. And those are both ok! I sure hope I’m smarter and wiser than I was as a child, a young adult, or a young wife and parent.
Of course, the other reason we change our point of view, is because human intellect and understanding is limited and there are countless thorny issues in our life that have no clear resolution or answer. How do we ensure religious freedom and freedom of conscience when bigotry, racism or misogyny is part of some people’s religious beliefs and morality? What is the best way to promote universal prosperity? Where do the rights of the mother begin and the rights of the fetus end? Indeed, what defines the beginning of a human life? When faced with intractable questions that have many valid points of view, it is good that we be open to the idea that we may not always cling to our own, current point of view.