Originally written in TACKED THOUGHTS for The Freeman
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo
As a teacher, I welcome differences of opinion and questions from my students especially in the classroom. It is, after all, a sign that they are thinking. With my students, the questions and dissenting opinions have always come very respectfully. On the rare occasions that they do sound impertinent, I recognize that it is not because my students mean to be rude, they are merely thinking aloud. And so I find that strongly held opinions that are different from mine are challenging at the very least and inspiring, at most. Sometimes, I am able to get the student to change his opinion. Other times, he gets me to change mine. And other times, we amicably agree to disagree.
Unfortunately, however, the world is not a classroom. Arguments and debates among adults do not always end amicably. I am so used to being the figure of authority in the classroom, so that I often forget that to the rest of society, I am really just another opinion. And so I am always unpleasantly surprised when I get into an argument with another adult. Heartbeat racing, palms sweating, blood pressure rising with no amicable settlement in sight. Hours after the encounter, I continue to have the conversation with myself and come up with evidence and valid reasons to prove my point. It’s a stress factor I could definitely live without. (I wonder how trial lawyers can do that day in and day out.)
The older I get, the more I realize how difficult it becomes to change my opinion on a strongly held belief about a particular issue. If I do get into a debate, it is not really because I want to hear what the other person has to say but to convince the other person that I am right. But that doesn’t mean it has never happened. My mind has been changed regarding certain things-mostly through an experience that made me rethink my worldview, once or twice through a moment of pure spiritual inspiration and occasionally through another person’s influence.
I have found that the persons who get to change my mind about essential positions are not necessarily the most learned or the most educated. They are strong in their belief but they are not rude. They do not make me feel that I am less of a person for believing differently. They are not self-righteous but are humble and down-to-earth. And they are willing to engage in dialogue not sermons.
I do not discount the importance of policymakers and opinion leaders but we cannot all run for office. History tells us that there are those who changed the world-not by changing policies or making statements, but by changing lives. One day at a time. One person at a time.