Not for the close-minded

There are two kinds of egotists: Those who admit it, and the rest of us. ~Laurence J. Peter

Although the video above is a case against those who accept the supernatural on faith, I don’t think any of us should walk away from it feeling smug. To our peril, I don’t think we are generally encouraged to self-interrogate, nor are we taught the value of open-minded communication.

First of all, I should admit my own guilt. I know that I am fallible…especially when the stakes are high and emotions run strong. Sometimes I have to fight really hard to avoid closing up. Yesterday, for instance, a young man in one of my classes was arguing that the invisible hand of the market is the ideal self-correcting force. This young man–we’ll call him Chris–has been in a couple of my classes so I know that he has unwavering faith in the market.

Chris self-identifies as a libertarian and he vehemently opposes government intervention in virtually every case (with a few exceptions, such as health care for children). I have locked horns with him on whether or not the CBC and the Toronto public library are valuable institutions, whether societies should have safety-nets for the weakest and most vulnerable, and if there are certain things that simply cannot be understood in monetary terms.

Here’s the thing: Chris is really smart. He has examples to back up his points and I can tell he has spent a lot of time honing his views. Although we disagree about almost everything, he has been an important member of my peer community: Because he demands more evidence, because he isn’t already like-minded and because he asks thoughtful questions, Chris has forced me to better understand why I believe what I believe. In this way, he has helped me to develop intellectually much more than the majority of my left-leaning peers that already agree with me.

Yesterday, I got stuck on a point. Chris looked at me with his characteristic furrowed brow–which is actually more pensive than it is condescending–and it occurred to me that I would have to do some more homework on the specific point. Still, if it wasn’t for Chris, I wouldn’t have been aware of my blind-spot. I swallowed my pride and I admitted to the class that “I’m not sure.” And you know what? I felt better about the admission than some of the best points I’ve made in the class.

We often seek to “win” in conversations. When our “opponents” are laying out their points, we are not really listening but merely waiting for our next turn to speak…especially if we fear looking stupid. This adversarial model was taught to us from a very early age. The problem is that this dynamic often generates more heat than light. Our preoccupation with scoring discursive points may so completely overtake us that–if asked what we learned in class today–we may struggle to recount the actual content of the encounter.

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8 thoughts on “Not for the close-minded

  1. That video is really good at presenting common sense with a saucy British accent.

    And I want to argue with you, but I can’t really find much to argue without coming off as closed-minded. I mean honestly Grower of Beans, how the hell is someone supposed to argue with you when you have framed an editorial with a video that make my arguments a closed-minded slippery slope? Touche my dear…touche.

    • Haha, yes, “sense with a saucy British accent”…but I’m not so sure about the “common” part.
      At the very least, it’s a good review of things that should always inform our kvetching, or lack thereof if we’re being effective.

      Thanks for bringing in the humble meaning of my name, haha. It will help in reminding me that I can only aspire to the aforementioned.
      As soon as the good ol’ adrenaline starts a-flowin’ it’s easy to forget that we’re not playing to win…or that we shouldn’t be.
      Thank you for pointing out how meta I’m being, haha.

      • Not playing to win?

        Now this I can argue with. There is always a right but not always a clear cut definition of what is wrong. Wrong, can be partially wrong or completely wrong or wrong with influences from the right, but RIGHT only has one definition in a given situation. That’s why I argue to win when I believe something is truly right.

        Whatever. Paul’s assignment is driving towards a new hobby in noose tying. I am going insane.

        • You’re right.
          There. Just like that I eliminate my own need to try and debate with you because if there’s only one right answer and if I say you’ve pegged it then you really can’t argue with me, haha. If we were trying to share meaning, however, it would be much more complicated.

          I hear you about Paul’s assignment. I have so much material, a paltry word count, and a hesitance to hack away at several weeks’ worth of research. It has taken me all day to write something bordering on mediocre.

          (NOTE: If any future employees read this, I’m only kidding. I’m a writing machine. I am especially rigorous on beautiful Saturday afternoons when all my friends are inviting me to pretty patios. Scout’s honour.)

  2. I appreciate the inherent logic of this video.

    It strikes me that there is a time for belief and a time for critique. There an educational theorist named Peter Elbow who says that these two hats – he calls them methodological doubt and belief – should both be used when confronted with an unfamiliar idea or text. He says that initially, in the interest of learning, it is beneficial to approach a new idea by trying to believe it, and only after this is done one should critique.

    Anyway, this changed my life as a grad student and will forever be the way I read new theorists. Application to one’s own life is the more difficult task.

    • Thank you! I’ll be sure to make some room for Elbow. (Sorry, I’m ridiculously cheesy sometimes.)

      Please feel free to pass along relevant links. I promise to wear the methodological belief hat at first–then I’ll switch to doubt, as it’s the one with the panache.

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