Bright: Take the time to understand others’ perspectives

Zach Bright, Opinion Editor

Writing this piece, my first as Opinion Editor, I’ve given a lot of thought to the effects that each and every story that comes from this section this winter will have on our readers. 

Evidently, there will be readers who agree with some columns and disagree with others. There will be those those who take the time to write comments, emails and letters to the editor. Some will be nice. Others won’t.

Above all, the most important part to me is that we continue to build an audience willing to take the time to understand and engage with the perspectives of others, regardless of who they are or what they identify with.

Labels and categories are powerful tools that can help create bonds among groups with similar affinities. But if we fail to understand those who are different from us, this can do more to divide people rather than build bridges between them.

One of the good things about this section is that the only labels we go by are our own names and positions, nothing else. 

I know people, myself included, who allow something as simple as their political party affiliation determine whether or not they like a person from that alone. 

For me, something like an individual’s party affiliation and participation can have a potent effect on what I think of them. I’ve found myself in situations where a simple fact like finding out how a person votes or how often can lead me to have unfair preconceptions about that person. 

After all, it’s easy for me to stay rooted my positions and shut out those who think otherwise. Yet as prevalent as it is in our lives today, Twitter isn’t the real world and I can’t simply block those who have a different worldview than my own.

Of course you won’t like everyone, regardless of opinions. If I’ve made an earnest attempt to understand someone else, there are plenty of times I still can’t wrap my head around why they believe this or that. We might fundamentally disagree.

And not all opinions are created equal. Some beliefs can be dangerous and don’t deserve a place in public discourse because of the toxicity they can unleash.

Ultimately, listening to others isn’t just some moral responsibility you should feel obligated to undertake. It can help, especially when we live in an increasingly decontextualized world where you have to be an ardent supporter for or against a cause. But opinions aren’t always black and white. 

Sometimes when you might find yourself somewhere between polar ends, active conversation can actually help me find your place. Genuinely thinking through multiple viewpoints lead to more nuanced opinions. 

Opening yourself to others’ perspectives can also be rewarding. If your goal is to get someone to think differently, understanding why they think a certain way is the first step to changing their mind. If you’re trying to convince people to come to your side, whether it’s casting a vote for a candidate or working toward a cause, coming from a place of positivity is often the more successful approach.

Shaming and cutting someone down to size doesn’t give people good reason to change their mind. It just puts people on the defensive. 

There will be articles in this paper that you might not fully agree with, or maybe even agree with at all. But I hope you will take the time to understand each point someone tries to make. Ultimately, I hope you remain open and take the time to understand.

Zach Bright is a Medill Sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.