When you meet people who disagree with you, Rejoice! Our ideas are winning!
“Wait a minute,” Scott Ott, “how can you say that our ideas are winning when that goofball, nutcase, little devil doesn’t share our ideas?”
Here’s how I can say that.
At the root, our fundamental principle is individual liberty. It’s what makes republican governance desirable. It’s the precursor to the pursuit of happiness.
However, keep in mind that some people will use their liberty differently than I will. They see the world from another perspective, and their viewpoint will manifest in a variety of ideas and behavior, some of which I will find reprehensible.
Hooray! Liberty wins!
You cannot adhere to the value of individual liberty, yet become enraged when someone disagrees with you. That disagreement is the whole point and proof of liberty.
Years ago, while stopped at a convenience store in the Poconos, I saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that portrayed then-President George W. Bush as a vampire, sucking the blood from the neck of the Statue of Liberty. What sweet irony! I resisted the urge to go over to him and whisper, “Hey, man. You’d better be careful. If the Bushies see that, you could wind up in solitary confinement…or worse.”
Instead, I kept my thoughts to myself, and quietly laughed at this poor soul who thought his liberty was in jeopardy, yet who could openly wear a sign attacking the sitting commander in chief of what he considered an oppressive regime.
If ever people stop opposing your views, watch out. That would represent utter failure of our principles, and would lead down the road to despotism.
So, when you hear someone mouthing off with ideas you think are stupid, crazy or evil, remind yourself that such is the “benefit” of a society that protects speech from government restraint and punishment.
In fact, you can actually use this dynamic tension as a springboard into a conversation designed to win the antagonist.
YOU: “Isn’t it great to live in a country where people like you and me — holding views are widely varied as ours — can openly avow them without fear of government persecution or prior restraint or punishment?”
You’ve immediately established common ground. He has an opinion he wants to voice, and you’ve affirmed his right to voice it. In the process, you’ve injected an affirmation of the core principle of individual liberty, and laid the groundwork for fruitful dialogue.
You’ll find more ideas like this if you merely listen to the ideas your “opponents” speaking their minds.
When they express outrage or fear at the power exerted by elected officials on your side, they’re singing your song.
YOU: “I totally agree that remote elites should not have that kind of power to control your life. In fact, if government needs to be involved at all it should be as close to the local level as possible, so you and I can keep an eye on them, and so they’re less vulnerable to the lure of wealth and power in a distant capital.”
If you meet someone who’s upset about the mobs of people rallying around ideas they appose — whatever those ideas — it’s a perfect cue to talk about the dangers of crowd-rule.
YOU: “When you said that, it made me think about James Madison’s warnings about the dangers of crowds run amok, stirred up by charismatic personalities. Madison said that kind of mobocracy usually tramples the rights of the minority.”
You can go on to talk about how republican governance, with its representative legislatures, divided powers, and checks and balances are designed to protect the rights of the minority.
But rejoicing in opposition is not just a way to celebrate individual liberty, nor merely a tactic to turn an argument into a foundation for agreement. It’s also an indicator that your future friend will be a passionate advocate for your ideas when he eventually comes to adopt them.
The apostle Paul once wrote that he was visiting a strange town and meeting with tremendous opposition…so he decided to stay longer. “A wide door to effective work has been opened to me and there are many who oppose me.”
Paul was excited that he met opponents of the gospel of Jesus, and he saw in their opposition a great opportunity to spread the message.
Paul himself was a former opponent, and antagonist, who became the most passionate and accomplished advocate of the life and ideas he once rejected.
So, the next time you get a hostile response to your ideas, or hear someone rant about concepts you think are stupid, crazy or evil, welcome them.
Celebrate liberty. Build a bridge, and anticipate that eventually the movement will grow thanks to your new passionate ally.