Have you ever engaged in an argument that was so riveting, so engaging, that you thought about it long after the fact? Why is engaging in a debate so entertaining? It could stem from our desire to dominate and win against those around us (we know this is rooted in human nature), or maybe it is to connect with familiar individuals. Both previous reasons included, I believe that it is mainly due to our innate desire to seek new knowledge. Let’s take a trip back to the early 1600’s, the height of Roman Catholic rule over Europe. The term, “Devil’s Advocate” was used during the canonization process in the Roman Catholic Church, in order to flush out any reasons as to why a recently dead member could not be declared a saint. Individuals tasked with playing Devil’s Advocate in the church were highly regarded, and their advice could make or break a legacy.
While the Devil’s Advocate may seem like an altruistic individual who seeks truth, let not forget the lawyers who are able to defend and acquit guilty individuals. Regardless of whether the defendants are actually guilty, skilled lawyers can sometimes get their clients off free. Take for example, the O.J. Simpson murder case; his defense team was able to provide a strong enough alibi to convince the jury of his innocence. Unfortunately, Simpson has all but officially admitted to the crime, but walks as a free man. But it’s not a one case subject, trials and sentences like this occur daily, and it is a huge industry.
As we’ve seen, the Devil’s Advocate is not inherently good or evil, but rather can be manipulated to fit the desired outcome of the individual. Try to come up with a belief that you hold dear to you. Now I could sit here giving examples as to why gay marriage should be illegal, why abortion is a sin against humanity, or why the United States needs to deport all non-aryan people, but you and I both have already heard that crap enough. I will however provide a counter-example to something I feel very passionate about: the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone.
I got in an argument with my roommates a few weeks back after I told them to put ice-cubes in their glass of milk. As a non-milk drinker, I clearly had no expertise on the matter as to why people view this act as a crime, punishable by death. I argued that the ice could not affect the milk in such a negative way that it would be un-drinkable and subsequently tossed out. I even told them that if they took a shot-amount of milk (I’m sure you all have experience with that specific amount of liquid) with one single ice-cube in it, I would be pleased. However, all three of them refuted this suggestion, with strong words and opinions. I think about them now, why would they be so afraid, why can’t they go on an adventure, why can’t they just step out of their comfort zone? But then again, why would they? They claim that milk’s taste is ruined in the presence of water, and why should they purposely try to consume something they don’t like? They know they won’t like it, so they don’t do it, simple as that.
For those who haven’t tried milk with ice in it but heard the horrors that follow, I can’t stress enough the importance of brewing this beverage (for personal reflection). And for those too afraid to try something with bad reviews, it’s our brain’s innate fear of the unknown that keeps us from trying new things. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, as my grandfather always says. The human race did not get to where it was today by listening to the growl coming from the rustling bushes and think, “I’ve never put my hand in there, so I guess I’ll try it now”. Hell no, we stayed away from that bush until we got enough friends to kill whatever was in there. While I am aware that the danger of a beast in a bush is much higher than drinking some milk with a couple of extra water molecules in it, the distaste derives from the same part of human nature.
But my friends claimed to already know the taste, and would be unwilling to put themselves through the horror of experiencing it again. But if this is the case, why do people love scary movies or haunted houses when they know the experience is going to be unpleasant. I reason with their belief, but it’s fun to try new things and conquer your fears, and hey, maybe they’ll discover a new favorite drink on a hot Sunday afternoon.
While the Devil’s Advocate is not always easy, it prompts you to think like your opponents and learn where they are coming from. Not only does this help you crumble their argument, but it also helps you develop your own concept of right and wrong. Try it out, if your friends think you’re an asshole, try to agree.