I attended a small private high school in Metairie, Louisiana. Our assistant principal and Spanish teacher was Elliot Ross Buckley. He was a terrific teacher and a man that I admired greatly. He went on to be General Counsel for the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission after serving in the Justice Department under President Ronald Reagan. I don’t know why he chose to teach high school, but I do know how lucky I was that he did.
He started a debate club and I quickly joined. His first proposition was a hotly contested concept in the day – “Should the federal voting age be lowered from 21 to 18 years of age?” I enthusiastically volunteered to take the affirmative argument, but Mr. Buckley assigned me to the negative.
I was confused and told him that I couldn’t take that side as I was in strong disagreement. That’s when he made a statement that I didn’t fully appreciate at the time – but do now. Mr. Buckley said, “Bill, what better way to prove that your position is right then to fully explore the opposite view?” He went on to explain that by thoroughly investigating a position I didn’t think was right, one of two things would happen.
- I would learn the rationale of the opposing view and realize that it actually had merit. I might prove myself wrong and change my opinion…or
- I would reaffirm my position and be knowledgeable enough to address and contradict every point argument of the opposition
Now that was enlightening – and helped explain why Mr. Buckley was so successful in his career.
That lesson comes to mind all these years later as everyone has the ‘right’ view.
- My candidate is great – your candidate isn’t qualified (yes, I’ve cleaned up this exchange quite a bit :))
- Dogs make the best pets – Cats make the best pets – snakes make the best pets – the best pet is a rock
- I’m right, you’re wrong – you’re wrong, I’m right.
The differences range from the ridiculous to the sublime – from the future of our country to the antics of the Kardashians. Where’s Mr. Buckley when you need him?
I’m not saying that everyone needs to agree with a different view, but it would sure be better to understand it – to not dismiss out of hand a new or different idea. What would happen if each of us took the time to learn the rationale behind the opposing view?
Here are some likely outcomes:
- We would discover the common ground rather than focusing on exclusively on our differences
- Businesses would gain invaluable suggestions and insights by being open to new understanding
- Individuals, businesses and society as a whole would become more knowledgeable – more educated
- People would have greater respect for each other, even though they disagree
- Leaders would become better leaders
Mr. Buckley made some suggestions all those years ago which are still valid today:
- Be open-minded – be willing to learn – be teachable
- Listen with intent – seek to understand rather than merely respond
- Speak from a basis of knowledge – look to educate rather than convince
- Be confident enough to accept that you may not have all of the facts – that there’s more to understand
Want to prove that you’re right? – prove yourself wrong! If you learn that you’ve been wrong, you suddenly become right. If you can’t prove yourself wrong – you were right to begin with.