We like to think we know everything. We don’t. Whatever cause you fight for (religion, sports team, social rights, etc) you don’t know the entirety of the issue just because you have Facebook and Twitter or you saw that one passionate speech that went viral. We like to think that we’re geniuses and our opponents are idiots. Unfortunately, that’s just not true…90% of the time. Hey, some people really are idiots. The truth is that your enemies can teach you a lot more than you might think.
1. They may know more about your side than you realize
Perhaps it’s just looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, but sometimes a person who isn’t “in the loop” can know more about what’s in the loop than the person who’s actually in it! For example, I learned a profound truth about Christians and Jesus from Ron Jeremy, an old porn star. Needless to say, we’re on different theological tracks, but I read about a debate where he complimented his Christian opponent as being like Jesus because he went to the problem instead of keeping a holier-than-thou distance.
Sometimes, an outsider can grasp a concept so simple and true that we may have forgotten it in all our “enlightenment.” We can become too smart for our own good.
2. They can critique your arguments like nobody else
Our arguments generally have flaws, and absolutely nobody else can find them like your opponent. No one can punch holes in a Republican legislature better than a Democrat. No one can explain why the Denver Broncos suck like a Seahawks fan and vice-versa. And yeah, sometimes they’re dead wrong, and sometimes they hurt you, but if you can take a little pain, you can adjust yourself to become far more effective in whatever cause you advocate.
Another example from my own life: I’m pro-life, and learned an important lesson from a pro-choice friend. She basically said that if you are pro-life, but won’t support the pregnant moms, you’re a hypocrite. And you know what? She was right. If I don’t want women to have abortions, then I need to support them being pregnant somehow. The Right-Wing Christian in me wants to shake a finger and say, “They shouldn’t have gotten pregnant!” Perhaps that’s true, but as my dad says, “Should” denies reality. They’re pregnant, so how can I help?
3. They are experts in themselves
The best way to defunk an opinion or sharpen your own is to understand the other person. They know themselves better than you do, most likely, so sit down and seek to understand why they act/believe the way they do.
I remember in college I read a short story about a young gay man who was in love with another man. However, that other man was every gay sterotype imaginable: overly-flamboyant, girly to the max, and dangerously promiscuous. The main character was a straight-lace metalhead who just wanted a relationship. The contrast throughout the story helped me realize how much I generalized the GLBT community, how many stereotypes I’d let define everybody. And talking with a transgender relative has helped me understand that community even more. I went from seeking to “cure the gayness” to actually wanting to help. It’s been much more effective.
Yes, sometimes understanding doesn’t fix thing. I understand some of my relatives perfectly well, and they’re still idiots. I can understand Hitler and still call him a monster. But even so, understanding the “opposition” brings about better change than ignorant shouting from the sidewalk.
So, if you really want to be a genius and an expert, listen to what your enemies have to say. They may see it from a different perspective. They may see a flaw that you need to fix in order to be effective. They may just open your eyes. But you cannot fake it, or just try to get something out of it; your interest and compassion must be genuine. That way, even if your enemy doesn’t enlighten you at all, at least you took the time to be a good and Godly person. And, perhaps, you made a new friend.