Frequently, I hear people dismissing opinions different from their own as “uneducated”. This trend was brought into sharp focus this year, when South Africa celebrated its 4th free and fair election.
When the election results rolled in, many of my friends dismissed the large support garnered by the ANC and the EFF as the as the result of the uneducated masses. Why else would someone vote for a radical such as Julius Malema, or a corrupt party like the ANC?
While I’m the first to admit that education in our country is in crisis, dismissing people’s opinions because they have a different kind education than your own is problematic for several reasons:
1. Being “uneducated” is not a real thing.
At least, not in this context. When does a person become educated enough for you to take their right to choose who runs the country seriously? When they can write their own name? When they have a degree? A PhD in Political Science? I think you’ll find, when you really think about the people in your lives, that as long as you don’t completely disagree with their choice in party, you don’t tend to dismiss their fundamental human right to choose.
2. Just because a person has a different experience from you, it does not make their opinions any less valid.
As much as we’d all like to believe that we’re completely independent and logical creatures who hold our beliefs after due consideration, it is simply not true.
A white male growing up in the heart of Sandton is going to have a very different point of view than a black female growing up in a small village in the Northern Cape. But both of them are equally capable of forming their own opinions, and articulating them if asked.
Maybe you understand macroeconomics, but I can guarantee you that “uneducated youth” who voted for the EFF understands something you don’t.
None of us hold any special privilege, intellectual or otherwise, over the next person’s right to vote. And everyone deserves the dignity of having their opinions, and the experiences that have informed them taken seriously.
3. When you other someone, you’re up to no good.
From Nazi Germany and the Jews, the Hutus and Tutsis, Black and White – no good can come from making someone different from you. If you choose not to see their point of view, to make another human being into a mass of something frightening and foreign, you make it that much easier to treat them a little less human.
The bottom line is that it’s easy to dismiss people when their opinions are different from your own. Their point of view is so absurd, so nonsensical, that the only plausible explanation is that they’re uneducated, or stupid, or just plain silly. Their opinions don’t deserve a second of your consideration.
There is VALUE to listening to the other side. The next time you find yourself accusing someone of being uneducated or stupid – don’t judge, don’t sway, don’t dismiss.
Ask. Ask why they believe what they believe. Ask because you genuinely want to listen. You don’t have to agree with them, and you don’t have to change their point of view.
I’ve found that when you ask someone why they voted for a certain party, the answer isn’t as simplistic as you might think. If there is one great gift that South Africa has left with us, it’s Ubuntu. We are who we are through our connection with others. Let’s not forget it.