“Know thine enemy and you will win.” -Sun Tzu
While the opinion of an ancient warfighter might have lost some validity in our modern age, there is a reason why the saying has become such an axiom. The ability to see the world through another’s eyes and listen to someone else’s opinion is a crucial life skill, albeit a difficult one to employ. For some, having to swallow their pride long enough or thoroughly enough to just listen to an opposing view to theirs is one of the hardest tasks imaginable. Hubris can one of the greatest impediments to progress one faces, be it in his career or personal life.
We see an unwillingness to compromise almost anywhere men have ideals. From a child throwing a tantrum all the way to international politics, there is always an inherent desire to be heard, not to listen. And while children are subject to their parents, and nations have a moderator in the UN, persuading others in everyday life is often much less decided. Then, there is no moderator, no authority, just one’s own opinion versus another’s. Those kinds of debates are frequently useless, if not detrimental, and end with little or no progress made on either side. This is because of an unwillingness, by one party or both, to listen; it doesn’t matter how articulate the argument or how sound the morals. If people won’t listen, what point is there?
Only when there is a willingness to weigh new ideas can progress be made. This can be evidenced by the now-debunked notion of spontaneous generation- the idea that life can instantly spring from non-life (maggots from meat, eels from mud, etc.). For centuries, spontaneous generation was an accepted law in the secular scientific world. Whenever new evidence or arguments were made against it, on either religious or empirical grounds, they were scorned by the scientific community. Nobody was willing to listen. This led to a ridiculous and entirely wrong idea’s perpetuation throughout the entire world. Had the scientists of the era kept open minds, they might have smothered a falsehood that lasted centuries.
The Biblical story of Samson is another example. Despite the protests of Samson’s parents in choosing a wife in a Philistine, an outsider, he insisted, saying, “‘Get her for me, for she pleases me well’” (Judges 14.3). Ignoring his parents’ best wishes, he married her. Eventually, she betrayed him to the Philistines and even wound up marrying Samson’s best man. If Samson was reasonable with his parents, his marriage could have been a happy one to a faithful woman. But once again, hubris overpowered clear thinking.
To be fair, the power to speak and command others’ attention is also an invaluable skill. However, if the speaker is only interested in having a one-way debate, no one will listen. The only way to get another’s respect for one’s ideals is to respect other people’s ideals. Not only is it simply the reasonable thing to do, but it just might open somebody’s eyes to truths they had previously refused to consider.