We all need a Devil’s Advocate

First of all, don’t listen to anything I say (unless you choose to). Don’t believe me for any reason. After all, I’m just a human with some life experience and some thoughts about said experience.

We’re all told, by many people, that we are this, that, or the other thing. People tell us we’re smart, strong, stupid, silly, or shy. And sure, we all like to be told the “good” qualities we have. But what about the times when we hear we are wrong? How do we manage our sense of selves when somebody says something potentially hurtful about us? Our choice to believe what others think of us is simply that, a choice.

Believing what others say about you has nothing to do with others, and everything to do with yourself. For example, you may have been told you were worthless your whole life. If you believed it, that’s on you. If you didn’t believe it, that is also on you. Any time somebody attempts to tell you who you are, smile politely and thank them. Then, either let go of their thoughts or embrace them as truth. Even if somebody gives you a wonderful complement, and you agree with their praise, you could both be wrong.

Oh, opinions. They are funny little things.

Something interesting happens when a bunch of people with the same opinion get together. They often have the same blind spots regarding their thought paradigms. There is no voice from an out-group demanding rationality or questioning the status quo. It’s quite possible that we are all wrong, all the time, in ways we cannot know unless we meet people who disagree with us. Groups that think alike are missing an integral part of their evolution: a voice that respectfully disagrees. We all need a devil’s advocate to hold us accountable for our beliefs and opinions.

I recently released an article that was well received by people in my community. I was feeling pretty good about myself. “Wow, all these people think my writing is good? I must be so great.”

Shortly after this self-congratulatory, narcissistic internal dialogue ended, I received a message from an old friend. He and I rarely speak; our paths haven’t crossed in several years. In an educated, mature, and adult way, he expressed some of the qualms he had with what I’d written. Nothing he said was offensive or malicious. He disagreed with me and supported his argument with facts and a solid opinion.

After I read his message, I breathed a sigh of relief.

We need people like him in this world, as much as they may trigger our insecurities or human fallibility. We need people that are not afraid to disagree with their enemies or, more importantly, their friends.

You may recall (or not, if you’re not super into movies about wizards) the first installment of the Harry Potter movie series. In an unexpected end to the first movie, an acquaintance of the movie’s namesake earns more points for his class at school than any other pupil. The headmaster of this magical school, Albus Dumbledore, awards this character (Neville) more points than any of his peers because he had the courage to disagree with his friends. He risked not being liked to share a logical opinion, and an important one to consider in the face of potential disastrous groupthink mentalities. Dumbledore awards Neville these points and professes, “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”

Sometimes dissenters are annoying, know-it-all types. While they may be annoying, they may also have some truth to share. It’s important for us to listen to those who disagree with us, because everybody knows something we do not.

It’s important to connect with each other on a humanitarian level and have actual conversations. Let people disagree with you. They may have something to teach you. Start with questions. Ask questions and then ask some more questions, because you never know what you don’t know until you know that you didn’t know it. Even then, there will be plenty more unknown for you to know about later.

© 2017 Shawna Marie Rodgers
All Rights Reserved.

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