Humility Can Bring Us Together

Last Sunday, I had a very unpleasant conversation with an argumentative man over libertarianism. This man, whom I had not met before that day, was informed and intelligent, but was already convinced even before entering the conversation that his opinion was true and that mine was false. Needless to say, he was not genuinely interested in what I thought.

This experience has reconfirmed my belief that if people were to speak like that to each other all the time, almost nobody would change their minds on any important issue. In fact, I am certain that to speak as if your opinion contains the entire truth is one of the surest ways not to convince someone.

If we want as a nation to break down the walls that divide us, it is extremely important to be able to engage civilly with others who disagree with our views. I admit it is not easy—I certainly have not mastered the skill. But it is necessary if we ever want to live in a country where one half of the population does not think the other half is crazy.

So how do we strive toward this goal? I suggest that we start by possessing the virtue of humility—that is, I suggest we not assume that our views contain the entire truth and that our opponents’ views contain none of it. Being humble means that we acknowledge that truth is difficult to be found. It means that when we enter a debate with another person, we ought to see it as a collaborative endeavor to attain truth.

Humility shows the other person that we respect their views, that we acknowledge and struggle with the intricacies of the topic, and that we do not hold ourselves to be better than others. Humility tells the other person, “You know, I don’t have all the answers, but maybe we can find some of them if we work together.” And even if humility is insufficient to convince the other person of our beliefs, what is more important is that it makes them want to empathize with us and spend time with us. Humility can bring us together because virtues are attractive, both to those who are virtuous and those who are not.

There is no doubt that humility is especially important for us at this time. We only need to point to this past year's Presidential election to see that there are multiple segments of the population that are utterly unwilling to engage civilly with one another, resulting in a lack of mutual understanding. The unfortunate result of this is that it becomes more tempting to surround ourselves only with others who already agree with what we believe. Without humility, then, people will remain isolated in their respective bubbles while refusing to acknowledge that other people have valid concerns. I, for one, do not want to live in a country like that.

Perhaps being humble is insufficient; perhaps there will always be stark disagreements. Even so, I refuse to believe that we cannot make any progress on this issue. I have faith that we can be more united than we are now, and I believe that the way to accomplish this begins with improving our own characters.