Why I Listen To ‘Controversial’ People

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I enjoy listening to ‘controversial’ people. Even those who I do not admire or generally share values with.

Why?

  1. I am a person who is easily engaged by novelty. The same conversation and set of ideas bore me. I consume a lot of content and information. When I hear the same concepts and talking points said over and over, I find it boring, even if I agree with the speaker.

  2. I have personally changed my mind on many issues over the course of my life. I have been humbled and accept that, even now, I unknowingly believe fake things and have half-baked ideas and opinions that I will later abandon. Perhaps even some of the ideas in my book.

    Given that I have continually changed my opinions on various topics throughout my life, it would also be accurate to say that I disagree with myself. If that’s true, there’s no way that I agree with someone else on every single topic. If I didn’t listen to people I disagree with, I wouldn’t listen to anybody.

    Yes, this is accepting an extreme view of what it would mean to refuse to listen to someone with whom I disagree. However, it illustrates the point that I could agree with someone on all but 20% or .01% of things. If I don’t listen to what they think, I cannot know if we disagree on the margins, on means, or if we have divergent worldviews and values. I could trust others to filter for me but then I’m dependent on the people who influence them, people whose agendas, names, and values are a mystery to me.

  3. Furthermore, even if we did disagree on 20% or more of topics, this person might know something that I don’t know. That knowledge could be a fact that could change my perspective. Or they might be able to teach me how-to information that saves me time or frameworks that prevent me from making a costly mistake.

    I have incorporated systems and advice from ‘controversial’ (who decides?) people. The merit of a tool or a framework should not be measured by the person promoting it but by its utility in achieving a desired aim in practice. No one should avoid using a hammer because of its association with totalitarian communism. 

    Throughout Lead The Future, I share powerful ideas and frameworks from ‘controversial’ people to emphasize this point: John Mackey, Peter Thiel, Nassim Taleb, Kanye West…

    For some of the ideas, I could have found a similar idea from a person who is still controversy free, for now, but for others that’s simply not true. Omitting the most impactful ideas I’ve stumbled upon because of the current reputation of the person promoting them would’ve been a great disservice to my readers. If people whose values you don’t share get to scare you away from the best ideas, you’re reducing your chances of succeeding in realizing your vision for the world. That choice might be the difference between success and failure.

  4. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, if you wish to persuade those who disagree with you, it is critical to know what they believe and why they believe it. When listening to someone, you may realize that you share the same values but disagree about the way to advance and realize those values. You may not be able to change their mind in any particular conversation but it’s generally not a great strategy to make enemies with people who share your values.

    I believe that I am generally well informed on many topics and confident in my core values. In a conversation, I think it is much more likely that I would convince someone to reassess their prejudices than they are to persuade me to become hateful or prejudicial.

    In certain situations (not in the global online ‘discourse’), say when talking to a friend, someone in my community, or a family member, I feel a duty to share my counter perspective and ask difficult questions. If I’m not responsible for challenging extreme or unproductive beliefs among those in my circle of influence, who is? (another topic I touch on in my book).

    I want to enter those conversations prepared to engage in a way that increases my odds of successfully moving someone away from a position that I believe is immoral and dangerous.

As I begin to publish more on my blog, and explore podcasts and other mediums to promote ideas and develop partnerships, I am going to engage with people and books/ideas/content by people who are ‘controversial’. Beyond this post, I do not intend on going out of my way to explain why I’m doing that. As always, I will be open to criticism and accept responsibility for my actions. But unless you can convince me that my reasoning above isn’t solid, I wouldn’t expect to see me retreat from this liberal position.

My intention with this post is not to convince you that my frame is the only reasonable or acceptable one to have. There are many benefits to choosing to listen to and engage only with people who share your values. My intention is simply to explain the reasoning behind my position and how it’s resonant with my values.

I am going to engage with people and ideas considered controversial. I will do this because it’s entertaining. I will do this because my own opinions have and will continue to evolve over time and I seek to understand before I seek to judge. I will do this because controversial people shouldn’t be able to secure a monopoly on any of the best tools or ideas. I will do this because it will enable me to be a better champion for my values.

I hope that you’ll join me on this adventure by subscribing to my newsletter and holding me accountable for publishing more shorter-form content throughout 2020. If you want to support me in this pursuit, please consider purchasing a copy of Lead The Future, leaving a review on Amazon, or helping me to secure speaking opportunities in-person or on media platforms.

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