Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 16, 2024

Why we need to listen to other people's opinions

By PHILLIP YOON | March 28, 2020


I’ve had the following experience many times, both at and away from Hopkins. If I say that I am a Democrat, or if I voice my opinions toward a democratic ideology, I sometimes get a weird look, a look of suspicion and disgust. If I do get a weird look, then I instantly know that the person that I am talking to is a Republican. From there, the conversation can no longer continue.

I am sure Republicans also have similar experiences. In fact, I am sure that Republicans on campus experience this far more often, given that the Hopkins population seems to lean Democratic. This is problematic, because we stop listening to each other as soon as we realize that we don’t have the same beliefs. But why do we have to react this way?

We are mostly interested in our opponent’s conclusion or beliefs, without trying to understand where these beliefs come from. The reasons for opposing beliefs are not even considered. This is a sad phenomenon, since it  discounts the fact that people that support other political parties are also brilliant and smart. 

I speculate that this has something to do with the instant gratification of the modern world. People no longer try to work hard for things, since everything is at one’s fingertips. You want a new backpack? You go to Amazon and it will come to you in two days. You want a romantic partner or a hookup? You go to Tinder and start swiping, and soon there will be a match. You want to talk to your friends? You just start typing up on your phone or your laptop. You want to watch a movie or a show? You go to Netflix.

I could go on, but the point is that everything is readily accessible without too much effort. We all have a desire for this instant gratification. We all became too impatient because of the high speed of modern technology.

This transferred into our daily lives at one point. Now we don’t even have the patience to listen to an opponent’s argument, the politics in America are increasingly polarized and distrust has become prevalent. One may just listen to an opponent’s conclusion, since they already have their own thoughts in mind.

For instance, take the idea that “American politics have been corrupted because of capitalism.” If someone is a strong advocate of the capitalist system, they might automatically think that that opinion is not worth arguing for or even listening to.

Is it not worth listening to the opposing view, though? I think that it is. For example, when I took the philosophy course Philosophy of Religion, I listened to the professor talk about the  Anselm of Canterbury’s ontological argument for the existence of God. The professor didn’t just state the conclusion, “God must exist because he is that which nothing greater can be conceived” and ask the students to take it or leave it. He laid out the premises and the development of the argument and explained how Anselm reached this conclusion.

It would have been absurd if the professor just stated the conclusion and left it there, right? It is important for philosophers to clearly lay out the outline of the argument. After looking at the flow of the argument, one can point out that this specific part of the argument is wrong, and therefore the conclusion should be reconsidered. Just looking at the conclusion and leaving it there is precarious not only for the opponent but also for you. You can’t judge a book by its cover.

This same principle applies to real-life arguments. If you listen to someone’s belief — for example,  “American politics have been corrupted because of capitalism” — then should you just leave it there? No, because you may actually benefit from understanding the opponent’s viewpoint and the reasoning behind it.

There may be a legitimate reason why your opponent believes that capitalism corrupts American politics, and it is to your benefit to understand their thought process. Once you understand where your opponent is coming from, you can challenge their belief by pointing out that something is wrong in their reasoning. Furthermore, by listening to the opponent’s reasoning, you accumulate possible objections and expand the possibilities of how to think about a particular issue. These can ultimately diversify and widen your perspective. 

Of course, listening to those we don’t agree with is not an easy task, in part because we all became impatient thanks to modern technology. I am not saying that it should be easy. In fact, it should be difficult to implement, especially in this rapidly moving society. Everyone is busy these days. You may wonder, “Why should I even listen to this person if they don’t agree with me? I don’t have time!” But that is the precise reason why you should listen.

If your opponent doesn’t agree with you, then there may be real benefits for both you and the other person. If you only talk to the people you agree with, you will continuously be confined to that one perspective. You will essentially shut yourself off from the multitude of possibilities. But if you talk to the people who you disagree with, you are exposing yourself to other possible points of view and potentially eye-opening experiences.

You need to be open-minded, patient and willing to listen in order to really hear others. It will be difficult, but the more difficult it is, the more rewarding it will be.

Phillip Yoon is a junior majoring in Philosophy and Mathematics from Charlotte, N.C.

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