Keep Your Opponents Closer

Food for Thought

In these turbulent times, a pressing question looms: amid the polarized political arguments, what role can each of us play?

In my youthful zeal, I ardently sought logical perfection for every political question. Each stance, I believed, could be dissected and judged on its merits. I reveled in debates, pinpointing the weaknesses in my adversaries’ arguments. Yet, this methodical approach has never persuaded anyone. On the contrary, it often entrenched my opponents further in their beliefs. After all, every argument is only as good as its assumptions—one can always find convenient assumptions to bolster any position. My intellectual pursuits, while gratifying, seemed to serve primarily my own ego. I began to yearn for a more tangible impact. I figured I should act, like join a protest. But even this, I quickly discerned, was yet another manifestation of ego. Physical involvement, though seemingly “tangible,” rarely shifted perspectives; it only satisfied the definition of that word.

Hegel astutely identified such an idealistic mind as a “beautiful soul”—pristine in its purity, yet tragically ineffectual in the real world. He embraced contradictions as part of his “dialectics,” a philosophy urging the synthesis of opposing views, rather than the triumph of one over the other.

True persuasion, I’ve come to understand, is less about the supremacy of reason and more about the art of listening. My approach has often been paradoxical: I am blunt, even rude, with allies but respectful and deferential with opponents. Through such interactions, even with extreme ideologues like white supremacists, I’ve learned that no individual is wholly virtuous or malevolent. Once you earnestly strive to understand their worldviews, they, in turn, become more receptive.

Much like psychotherapists, who laboriously prepare their patients to confront unsettling truths, we must recognize that beneath the polished exteriors we all project, lie inescapable contradictions. Logic, more often than not, is but a façade to shield these impurities. To truly reshape perspectives, one must embrace them, recognizing them as intrinsic to the human experience.