“We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”
— John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859
Opinions are streets of ideas.
They flow in one direction, gathering and dispersing vehicles efficiently with well-regulated rules for whatever type of street you are on. Some move quickly with heavy traffic and some move slowly with just a few cars. The one thing they all have in common is that those on a particular street are all going the same direction.
It gets more interesting when the traffic arrives at an intersection. At that point, all vehicles going one direction have to halt to accommodate drivers going in the other direction. The opposing flow is orthogonal to the direction in which you are traveling. To say it another way, it’s at a right angle to your opinion.
At the intersection, there are rules on how to proceed. There is no “right” way to go, but there is a “right-of-way.”. The way you’re traveling is of course the right way as that is your opinion reflecting the direction of travel most beneficial to your needs. It’s also your right to travel in that direction. The right-of-way is the set of rules followed by all in order to let everyone go where they need. Or, the set of rules which allow everyone to hold the opinion that suits them best.
The trouble starts when a driver ignores the right-of-way, and thus the opinions of those traveling in the orthogonal direction. And not only does it impede the flow of traffic in one direction, it impedes the traffic in both as the both flows try to advance through a previously regulated intersection. The speed at which a driver travels, or if he or she is following another driver blindly, is an indicator of the likelihood that they’ll ignore the right of way, causing accidents and delays. The result is, not surprisingly, gridlock.
When you speed along your street of opinions, staying in a tight-knit group of like minds, it’s tempting to barrel through the intersections, shouting obscenities at the other drivers. But that’s unproductive, reckless, and foolish.
The wise driver knows that sooner or later something will change. If he or she needs to get somewhere different, their direction of travel will have to change. Quite possibly, he or she will need to go the other way through the intersection.
And when you have traveled both ways through the intersection of orthogonal opinions, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be more willing to respect the right-of-way of others, more often listening to their opinions than expressing yours, …
… and all the while knowing that “right” is relative.
Yesterday’s gift of time … Drove the kids to many appointments and lessons around town … Patiently listened to a point of view that was quite orthogonal to my own, briefly giving them the right-of-way.