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In our everyday lives, we often come across the issue of argument, conflict, and debate. After all, personal opinion is a key component of what makes us human. Although we might lean towards one side of the matter, we often find ourselves trying to grasp the point of view of the other side.
Though some problems do have black and white answers, the vast majority of issues can only be answered through opinion, creating a gray area. The only way to escape or even embrace this gray area is to not only look at the issue from multiple perspectives, but to also try to understand them. In many cases, this starts with comparing and contrasting our own opinion to one that is drastically different; looking at two extremes along an opinion-based continuum at the same time.
The inescapable topic that most of us think of when it comes to argument or debate, and often displays the polarity of opinions almost perfectly (at least in the United States, where the political system is effectively divided into two parties), is politics. Politics is commonly thought of as a term that only relates to how an individual or group of individuals rules a country, generally being defined as “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area…especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.”
This definitions in a sense demonize those who are involved in politics, making them seem self-interested and, to a certain extent, greedy… But if we step back and try to look at the term on a broader scale, it can be more simply defined as “the process of making decisions that apply to members of a group.”
If we choose to follow this more general definition, we can start to see that perhaps many political opinions that we might disagree with aren’t always inherently short-sighted or selfish, but more so altruistic.
In America, many news sites and social media feeds seem to be obsessed with this perceived polarity between the political left and the political right. More often than not, this is simplified as Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. Of course, the politicians themselves can also be blamed for this polarity, often recognizing the importance of and adapting their agendas to public opinion within the country, which itself is often quite divisive.
Although politics in America are seemingly polarized, third parties and people who believe in ideals from both sides exist. The only possible problem with this polarization is that some of the people who claim to have a blend of party ideals and those who align themselves with third parties are often impulsively nudged into more closely aligning with one of the two major parties as opposed to remaining truly “independent.” Whether a political argument arises over a cup of coffee or in front of millions people via television and internet broadcast, people continuously find themselves choosing sides.
A topic of interest in the news that appears from time to time and encompasses the general opinions of both sides in regards to politics and economics is the question of whether or not the government should raise the minimum wage.
For the purpose of simplicity, we’ll stick with focusing on the federal minimum wage as opposed to including both the state and federal levels. In addition, we’ll oversimplify and say that all democrats want to raise the minimum wage and that all republicans believe that the minimum wage should stay the same.
In general, Democrats believe that raising the minimum wage is a good thing because it would increase economic activity, spur job growth, and reduce poverty. On the other hand, Republicans generally feel that increasing the minimum wage is a bad thing, forcing businesses to lay off employees, raising unemployment levels, and increasing poverty.
From an unbiased perspective with little knowledge of economics, both sides bring up points that appear to be reasonable with neither side seeming to be objectively right or wrong.
Though I’ve had to argue for one of the sides in my own research and have a fair understanding of economics, I still find that neither side is 100% correct. Though raising the minimum wage has been and continues to be attempted on the state level, a general conclusion on what would happen if the minimum wage was raised on the federal level has yet to be answered.
Now, this doesn’t mean that raising the federal minimum wage has never been attempted. In fact, the federal minimum wage has been increased and decreased on multiple occasions since 1938. Additionally, many of the minimum wage changes occurred only when the economy was moderately healthy (with things like unemployment, inflation, and interest rates being at adequate levels), adding another crucial factor to the table that makes the debate, on both sides, more complicated. Despite this, people on both sides still have very strong opinions on minimum wage—in addition to other issues—with similar conclusions.
Many could easily write people off as believing certain things simply because they are misinformed or underinformed. This holds a great amount of validity and should be taken into consideration, but it still doesn’t explain why people with a vast knowledge of economics (or any topic for that matter) continue to disagree with each other.
Don’t get me wrong. As a young college student studying international affairs, I love indulging myself in spontaneous arguments about topics that I don’t necessarily have much knowledge about, but for some reason have very strong opinions regarding them. Taking this into account, perhaps it is more intangible factors that drive the basis for many of our thoughts and opinions.
From the day we are born, we start to form our own opinions based on the things we face on a day-to-day basis. Unknowingly, we begin to forge our own biases, sometimes creating an imaginary blindfold that prevents us from seeing things from the point of view of someone with wildly different opinions.
Because of this, we sometimes delve into arguments or debates without thinking about where the person we’re arguing with is coming from.
Especially in regards to political issues, our thoughts and opinions are strongly influenced by things like what our parents believe, what our school teachers might unconsciously convey, or what news site we decide to peruse before heading to class; all without thinking that they might be slightly—or even heavily—biased towards one side or the other. Though many politicians have their own narrative or reasons for raising or keeping the minimum wage the same, statistics hint that our opinions in regards to minimum wage most likely stem from things like our family income and level of education.
In a study by Gallup, aside from political alignment, the demographic of those who want to raise the minimum wage generally aligns with those who are being paid the minimum wage or people who have lower incomes (with an overwhelming majority of 87% of the people making an annual salary of $24,000 a year or lower being in favor of an increased minimum wage) and lower levels of education. On the other hand, we see that those who want to keep the minimum wage the same generally aligns with people who have higher income levels.
These demographics make perfect sense. A person earning the minimum wage of course wants their salary to increase while a person with a higher income, like a business owner, of course doesn’t want to increase their expenses by spending more money on employees that might be earning minimum wage.
But it is because of this simple logic that we need to understand where each side is coming from.
Let’s say we’re minimum wage workers. On impulse, we could easily view the business owner as selfish because they don’t want to pay even just a little more money to increase our salaries. But if we take time and try to think of where the business owner is coming from, we might be able to get a better understanding as to why they wouldn’t want to pay their workers a slightly higher wage. Perhaps they simply don’t have enough money to do so or maybe maybe even a slight increase in wages could throw off a well thought out financial plan that relies heavily on employees’ salaries remaining constant.
The same logic applies to if we place ourselves in the position of the business owner. We could view our workers as greedy, simply wanting a higher wage for the sake of having more discretionary income; or, we can consider the possibility that they might be struggling to make ends meet, and that an increase in salary would allow them to pay essential bills or even pay down debts such as student loans.
In both cases, we can see that although the opposing side could possibly be selfish and unjustified, there’s also an equal possibility that they are more altruistic and reasonable, similarly to how we view ourselves.
Of course argument and debate isn’t exclusive to politics. Whether it be in person or digitally, monumental or trivial, intense or more settled, we find ourselves in arguments more often than we’d generally prefer to. Though minimum wage isn’t something most of us talk about on a day-to-day basis, looking at arguments from both sides similarly to the way we looked at minimum wage can help us learn more than we expect.
Being passionate and gaining as much knowledge as we can about certain topics is a large part of why the world is great, but it is paramount for us to widen our lenses and see things from as many points of view as possible so that we can not only better understand opposing views but also better understand our own.
While this does not necessarily mean that our views will change, this is the first step in creating civil discourse with others on the various issues where we have a differing opinion.
By taking an open-minded and objective approach, we can focus on the issues themselves instead of simply trying to “win” an argument or convince others why we’re right, which often creates further divide instead of constructive discussion.
As humans, we will never see eye-to-eye on all issues. But instead of viewing people who disagree with your opinion as adversaries, and immediately dismissing or attacking their views, we can use the opportunity to engage others in a way that leads to positive interactions and, perhaps, expands our own understanding and views.
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