Tuesday, April 26, 2016

I Am Right,You Are Wrong

Human beings love to argue, to fight about ideas of what is right and what is wrong. Or more accurately, WHO is right and WHO is wrong. Certainly there are infrequent times when people respectfully listen to one another, debating points of view only to sharpen one’s understandings rather than to undercut one another. But most conversations are verbal sporting events whose objective is to win – to dominate in the jousting of ideas and to belittle and overwhelm contrary opinions. The end results of such contests are very little advancement of informed knowledge, minimal progress in the advancement of interactions within societies, and the cause of much needless division and conflict in the world. Argument perpetuates and reinforces the stagnation of thought.

The human need to be “Right” about something – or about nearly everything – is another illustration of our emotional fragility. Our need to be Right is the mirror image of our abhorrence of being “Wrong.” That fear of being Wrong is the guard that keeps us imprisoned away from our own creativity, from discovering our own truly original thought. Certainty is the archenemy of truly creative thinking.

If we are honest with ourselves, most of what we believe – and argue vociferously to defend – is not what we truly believe anyway. Most of our supposed well-thought out beliefs are actually pasted-on opinions we borrow from others – parents, teachers, mentors, friends, colleagues, opinion-makers – devoid of our own direct experiences and encounters. We have opinions about people we have never met, or only know peripherally; cultures we have never visited nor engaged; religions we have never studied or shared their ritual; lifestyles we have never encountered; moral principles we have never really questioned; starkly minimalistic living conditions we have never experienced. Most of the people we spend time with are people who look like us, speak like us, echo the same opinions as us. We nourish our beliefs by our immersion within the sameness of a familiar community of look-alikes.

We sincerely think that our beliefs are framed within great absolute and universal Truths. Yet the first Truth is that our beliefs reflect, and are limited by, our personal perspective. It is a perspective built upon our individual life experiences, encounters, and role models, experiences far different than others. If our perspective has been gleaned from a wide breadth of exposures, then our beliefs will similarly incorporate a breadth of thinking and openness to considering and finding accommodation with contrary opinions. If our exposure has been narrow, then our beliefs will likewise be narrow, closed to contrary opinions.

We think that our beliefs are logically derived and thought through, reflecting our superior human intellect. Yet the quality of our logical thinking rises or falls based upon the comprehensiveness of our inputs. If our inputs are limited, our conclusions necessarily will be limited. We believe our thinking creates our perspective. In reality, our preexisting perspective from our experiences create our thinking, and thereby our beliefs. That self-fulfilling cycle should make us very cautious about what we think we believe is right.

Arguing steadfastly about who is Right exposes the underlying insecurity of our beliefs. The weaker our confidence in our beliefs, the harder we fight to affirm them onto others. But if one is truly Right, it is not conditioned by how many also believe it. (Rightness may love company, but thousands of slaves and slave owners in America never made slavery Right.) Realistically, most of what we presume the need to agree upon requires no agreement at all, versus making a commitment to live compatibly within a diverse community of opinions. It might be better to spend less time judging the wrongness of others, and instead expend more effort living a better version of our own rightness.

Listening openly to other perspectives – other life situations and experiences far different than our own – puts the genuine pursuit of knowledge and character ahead of our false need to be Right. It is our acceptance of our continuing ignorance that keeps us learning, not our certitude.

©  2016   Randy Bell              www.OurSpiritualWay.blogspot.com


Anonymous said...

Good read, Randy. I never learned anything new by talking, only listening, but I am guilty!!!

Anonymous said...

Once again you paint with words to say what we all should already know……..but very few ever will experience. Thank you, as always, for sharing your gift so that we all may stop to think ……..and learn.