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.