Having recently moved from Britain to Colorado in the United States, my wife and I are undergoing a culture shock. We have been disarmed by the friendliness of people and, compared to the UK, how inexpensive petrol (gas) is. We are also happy to see how many regular products have a kosher symbol on them. Another pleasant aspect of our move has been the staggering natural beauty of Colorado.

However there is one characteristic that has significantly disappointed and disturbed me. Healthy and balanced political debate does not seem to exist in the United States. Instead, both sides of the political spectrum seem to have their own media outlets where they vent their incredibly polarized and uncontested political views—often with the aim of discrediting the opinions of their ideological opponents. The problem with this is that the two sides talk at each other rather than to each other and as a result suspicion and hate festers. The situation is acute—people seem to have utter contempt for anyone with different ideological and political views.

To be sure, it is good that people are passionate about their individual political and ideological views. However if one only converses with like-minded people one will never know when one errs. The Torah says, "Man is a tree of the field" (Deuteronomy 20:19). There is a Chassidic saying that explains this verse. If a tree grows in isolation it is likely to become crooked and bent. However, trees that grow together in a forest grow straight and tall—they "keep each other straight," so to speak. Similarly, for truth to be upheld it is fundamental that human beings do not live in intellectual isolation, only hearing views that reinforce their own. Vigorous and respectful debate with the aim of reaching the truth is crucial if one is to remain intellectually healthy.

Respectful debate amongst scholars with divergent views has always been a hallmark of Judaism. The Talmud is replete with debate amongst rabbis who disagreed with one another. They were not afraid to debate because being proven wrong was not seen in a negative light; they only had one agenda—to reach the truth. And even if a consensus could not be reached, it did not mean that either side was entirely wrong.

The Talmud says that divergent views can both be seen as the words of the living G‑d (Talmud, Eruvin, 13b). There is a deep profundity in this statement. As long as we are taught to appreciate that divinity is also found within the view of people who disagree with us, then respect and dignity will be paid to intellectual opponents.

This Talmudic dictum implores us to engage with people who are in our opinion mistaken, because although their view may not be ultimately accepted, it is nonetheless legitimate. This element of respect for the views of others is a critical ingredient of a decent, harmonious, strong and healthy society.

Now more than ever, the Talmudic model of respect for intellectual rivals should be seriously heeded. Yes, we can disagree—and even passionately so. However, we must never allow ourselves to become so entrenched that we stop talking to each other—or "talk" only to belittle, defame and delegitimize the other's view.

The other and his/her views always have something to teach us, if only we are open to the lesson.