I have changed my mind on a number of things. I have gone from Catholic to "spiritual seeker" to atheist. I have gone from free market capitalist to communist to market socialist. I have gone from Democrat to Libertarian to unaffiliated independent. I have gone from hopeless romantic to womanizing man-whore to happily married. I haven't had the most interesting life, but I sometimes feel I have more experience in some areas than the average person - at least for a 26 year old (so young... so dumb).
I would not have had such a life without exposure to so many different ideas and people. At any time, I could have shut out what is different. I could have ignored people who disagreed with me. I could have just nodded and smiled at every opportunity to argue. But the truth is I couldn't.
I have an inability to remain silent in the face of opposition. I don't particularly relish conflict, but if I hear someone say something I think is stupid and it comes down to politely backing off or telling them they are flat out wrong, I have yet to find the situation where I respectfully bow out of the conversation.
I find discussion of ideas with people who think very differently to be not only refreshing and novel, but beneficial to my intellectual development. I'm not done learning, even though school ended for me years ago. Besides being exposed to new ideas that I may choose to adopt, arguing with someone whose ideas I have found to be inaccurate tends to strengthen my understanding.
It's a strange situation, that the same activity can yield such paradoxical results. On one hand, arguing with someone has the common tendency to entrench the participants, playing off the stubborn nature of both debaters. Yet, polarization is not the only outcome. In fact, it is only through engaging those who are different that we can ever hope to change - or improve.
Will I one day grow old and look back on the heated discussions I had with others and feel proud, or will I be ashamed? Only time will tell, but right now I am glad I have never kept my piece just to keep peace. I am not out to change other peoples' minds, only to develop my own. The more I express my opinions and open them up to the world of criticism, the stronger they will become. I want ideas forged in fire, not soft and comfortable belief. It is comfort enough to know that I have formulated the best ideology that I could have possibly developed for myself.
Am I always right? Of course not, but one day I hope to be. True, I can never know everything, but I can aspire to know a few subjects very thoroughly. One thing I do know: you can't learn anything by being silent. One must engage in meaningful discussion, no matter how foolish it may make you appear. Listening is important, but if all you do is listen... are you learning or being preached to?