The Free Exchange of Ideas
Far too many people, it seems to me, are afraid of evolving. They seem to think that any reversal of previously-held opinion renders one “inconsistent” or “inauthentic.” But it makes perfect sense to change one’s view as new knowledge comes to light. Indeed, at the heart of both yoga and meditation lies the imperative to evolve toward a more enlightened state of consciousness. To remain stubbornly fixed in a view as new information becomes available would seem to be the negation of this imperative.
Sometimes the reversals people experience can seem extreme, even baffling, to others. This should come as no surprise, since no two people see any issue from precisely the same vantage point. One of the best forms of education is teaching oneself to see all sides of every issue, including (or especially) issues about which you feel strongly. Not only does this help you to become more tolerant of those who do not share your view; it also prepares you to debate more effectively, without resorting to ad hominem attacks. What is the point of debate, after all, if not to change your opponent’s point of view, and remain open to having your own viewpoint changed?
It’s fascinating to watch two mutually respectful, intelligent, and well-prepared people conduct a debate. In the best cases, neither opponent emerges from the experience entirely unchanged. If the apologist for one view makes an excellent case, his/her opponent can’t help but be partially swayed, even if not completely won over to that viewpoint.
There are a few rules I think should be a priori agreements when entering into a debate:
1) Ad hominem (“against the person”) attacks are off-limits.
2) That which is asserted without evidence may be discarded without evidence.
3) Both sides should be alert to truths spoken by the other, and willing to concede them (if not necessarily conceding the implications the opponent infers from those truths).
One of the beauties of yoga and meditation is that they teach us physical and mental flexibility. Flexibility and mental agility are excellent attributes to bring to a debate, especially considering the recent coarsening of discourse in our culture.