Last year on my way off campus, I saw a man standing on Waverly Avenue with a large sign saying how the bible was the only hope one had for salvation and shouting at passerby. Instead of walking past him trying not to make eye contact, I smiled and walked over.
This man was talking to two girls, saying how he’d been an atheist before but had now seen the Bible as the ultimate source of truth and as his salvation. He talked mainly about living by passages in the bible, and condemning homosexuality since the Bible didn’t support it. At one point, I even asked about one passage I know of that says a woman who isn’t a virgin but gets married should be stoned to death. The man said that if the woman wasn’t honest with her fiancee about not being a virgin at first, he would agree with throwing rocks at her until she died.
At this point, one of the woman listening actually apologized to the other woman about having to hear this man’s words about gay people, and both of them walked off. This was after an angry student going by splashed a bottle of water on him, called him a few choice words, and stomped away.
But after hearing all this man’s religious ramblings, it actually put me in a much better mood for the day. Overall it was a very enjoyable experience. I didn’t feel angry, I felt intrigued and fascinated, like a child seeing a huge laser light show.
Why was this such a pleasant experience for me? It’s because no matter how crazy or radical they may seem to others, I just love ideas different from my own to any degree. That’s the beauty of the marketplace of ideas, and is something I think everyone should have a better appreciation for, not just people in the idea and information business like I am.
But why should people be so open to these kinds of ideas that can come across as downright insane? Here are the reasons I’ve found:
Boosts Your Critical Thinking Skills
With critical thinking always being one of, if not the, most important skills in any profession, this is always a priceless benefit. It mainly helps with pointing out nonsense in arguments and finding the reasons and rationality that work the best, although even just this can help with anything. People who know how to make a good argument and break down a bad one are in high demand everywhere.
One favorite thing of mine to do is to hear a series of bad or poorly thought out arguments, and pointing out all the logical fallacies you see in each one. Then you watch how the argument given changes over time. If they moderate or adjust their views based on their faulty logic, you’re debating with a smart person. If they stubbornly cling to their views or just move onto other logical fallacies, then they’re not.
Your Horizons Will Either Grow or Strengthen
I believe this is a win-win. When you engage with ideas different from your own in the marketplace, one of two things will occur:
- You accept the reasoning behind them and incorporate them into your own ideas, growing your horizons.
- You reject the reasoning behind them and as a result, need to defend your own ideas with the reasoning you already have for them, making them stronger.
So no matter what happens, you gain something from the exchange. The more extreme or far away the other person’s ideas are from your own, the bigger the benefit. That way seeing the religious people screaming on the streets puts me in a better mood than regular political debates, although both are still very nice.
Form Bonds Based on Intelligence
This is one of my favorite ones, assuming you debate with the right people. If you can find people who can separate the facts from their feelings, you’re in for a spirited debate where you both appreciate each other’s intelligence. This leads to respect, which leads to a kind of mature bond that’s surprisingly strong. After all, bonds based on what people think last a lot longer, since how people think tends to not change very much in their entire lives.
If you have someone who can’t separate their facts from feelings, however, I’ve found that the opposite happens. Disagreeing with these peoples’ ideas is seen as a personal attack on them, and instead of adjusting their viewpoints they’ll become angry and resort to bad logic or arguments to defend themselves. Plus they’ll likely not ever want to debate you again (which is always a bit disappointing for me).
You Meet a Lot of Great Characters
Lastly, of course in your search of interesting ideas, you’ll meet a lot of interesting people like the usual suspects on Waverly Avenue by Syracuse. Even if you take the arguments seriously, it’s nice to just appreciate who the person is and how their ideas relate to their unique identity. As you can see below, it can take something serious and help make it something more enjoyable.
This well-known picture actually did happen on Waverly Avenue in Syracuse as well. In almost the exact same spot I met the man I described at the start of this post.
While having this passion for all the good, bad, and nonsensical in the marketplace of ideas has its drawback (sometimes people think I personally believe the ideas, even though I just like discussing them), in the end it’s always worth it for me. Not just for my career, but just for a great way to experience all the different facets of people and life. If I may end with a quote from a favorite video game of mine: