How Civil Discussion Makes Us Wiser III: Understanding Others

I said in my first entry on this topic that, among other benefits, civil discussion can help us understand other people.  How it does so—by encouraging us to hear them out—may seem relatively straightforward.  But how does that count as a benefit?  What value is there in understanding our fellow and sister citizens?

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I’ve already noted that we can learn from other people in civil discussion.  But here I’m talking about something else: learning about them.  And there’s a different value in that.  Learning from others happens when we get a chance to hear what others feel and think.  That can help us get a better handle on the world around us and, perhaps, understand ourselves more clearly as well, as I suggested in my previous blogs.  But learning about other people helps us gain a wider and deeper understanding of who they are as people rather than as labels, categories, or representatives of this or that group.  We begin to see what has made them what they are—and what they hope for.

There’s an old saying in Spanish: “Hablando se entiende la gente”, which means “By talking people come to understand one another.”  That doesn’t mean that by talking we’ll always come to agreement.  What it means is that talking things through is the surest way for us to learn where other people are coming from.  Democracy means moving forward together.  Learning where we’ve come from is surely a good place to start.  Civil discussion gives us that starting point.


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