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The Wisdom of the Other Side

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My wife Heidi often quips that my definition of a wise person is somebody who agrees with me.

The truth is we all enjoy being around and listening to people who agree with us. When we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals, we feel affirmed, validated and smart.

And we miss the wisdom of the other side.

When people disagree with us, we often dig in and defend what we "know" to be true. We question the other side's intelligence, their motives and perhaps, even their patriotism. As soon as we determine that we are on opposing sides of an issue, we cease to really listen. As Stephen Covey noted, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply."

And we miss the wisdom of the other side.

When we are zealously defending our own viewpoint, we fail to wonder about what the other side could teach us. What are they seeing that I might be missing? When we focus on proving ourselves right, we miss the chance to see the world from a different perspective. How might I see this issue differently if I were in her shoes?

Seeing the world from a different perspective allows us to grow and learn, to gain new insights into the world around us and often, to see previously hidden opportunities. Our need to be right -- and to prove the other side wrong -- robs us of the opportunity to learn from others.

Abraham Lincoln, regarded by all sides as one of our greatest presidents, demonstrated his political genius when he made the unprecedented move of selecting three of his former rivals for the Republican nomination to join his cabinet. Lincoln persuaded William Seward, Salmon Chase and Edward Bates to join him in leading the country despite the fact that all had openly criticized him during the campaign.

When asked why he had done such a thing, Lincoln responded, "It's simple. The country is in peril. These are the strongest men in the country. I need them by my side." Lincoln knew he needed a strong team to lead our nation through one of its most difficult periods. He set aside pride in his own prodigious abilities and any animosity he might have had, confident in the knowledge that he could learn from these men and better serve our nation. President Lincoln recognized that he needed to listen to the wisdom of the other side.

As G.K. Chesterton said, "There's a lot of difference between listening and hearing. The next time you find yourself listening to the other side, try responding with, "Tell me more about that and why you think so." If your experience is anything like mine, something remarkable will happen. The other side will be surprised that you are actually listening to them, not just immediately responding with your own point of view. Freed from the need to zealously defend their own viewpoint, the other side often relaxes, and the tension in the exchange lessens. And when you do speak again, they will be much more likely to listen to you. When you actively listen, you both will be more ready to learn from the wisdom of the other side.

As columnist Doug Larson said, "Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd have preferred to talk."

Of course, this is my point of view. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

David Geller is the author of Wealth & Happiness: Using Your Wealth to Create a Better Life. He is he CEO of Atlanta-based GV Financial Advisors and is available for professional speaking engagements.