“It is not who is right, but what is right, that is of importance.” –Aldous Huxley
If I try to shut down one side of an argument without trying to understand it… or listen to it… or let it inform my opinion (as today’s cancel culture often does), it’s because I don’t understand the value of conflict. I think it’s dangerous. I think it leads to untruth. But conflict is dangerous only to my ego… never to the truth.
All the best conversations and products, ideas and inventions come from the contrast between two points of view. We need friction to cause a spark, so to speak, to create unexpected and miraculous outcomes. Flint or stone won’t do it, both are needed.
Take an oyster, for instance. Oysters only makes pearls in response to an irritant – such as a grain of sand – that somehow slipped inside its carefully guarded shell. In response, the creature produces nacre, a protective coating that helps reduce irritation. It is by trying to reduce the irritation that a pearl is born… not by cancelling it or ignoring it, or pretending it isn’t there, or isn’t valid.
It took me a long time to understand the value of friction and contrast. I would argue that they are actually good for us… because they help us overcome our fear of conflict. Perhaps we were raised in a household where there was a lot of shouting. What happened? We became the Peacemaker in the family, trying to assuage both sides, thinking that if we can help everyone avoid conflict that we could restore harmony. This was certainly an honorable goal, but a fantasy nonetheless. It wasn’t our role to maintain harmony in the house, just like it’s not our role to maintain harmony in the world. We were too young to imagine that adults use disagreement to define and refine their points of view, to evolve, to arrive at compromise.
Unless there was a member of the family that absolutely wouldn’t compromise: a bully. It’s a mafia tactic to insist that only one way of “pure” thinking is permissible, that only allow one side is allowed to speak. Or that if we get rid of the holder of an opinion that we’ve rid ourselves of that point of view altogether. That’s such a naiive and bone-headed approach, I don’t know what to say.
“I don’t feel I have to wipe everybody out, Tom. Just my enemies, that’s all.” –Michael Corleone
I think that’s what’s happening today. Why else would so many people think that harmony could be reached simply by cancelling the other side? Harmony can’t be enforced on others. It’s like imagining that fascism can be fought by silencing your opponents. In doing so, we become the very beast we set out to conquer!