I was prompted to think, during and after my rich Socrates Cafe Podcast exchange with progressivist scholar, activist, prof and civic entrepreneur Stephen Duncombe — here’s part 1 of our video podcast, and here’s part 2 — a good bit more about what I wrote in my previous blog.
It was all about how we should assume, until and unless given clear reason otherwise, that people who offer perspectives or proposals of any sort on any subject — political, religious, philosophical, Trumpological, what have you — are doing so from sincerely held positions.
It occurred to me that I’d left something out, that there’s still something missing from that blog, an key point that wasn’t made.
I know many folks with firmly held views, on the right, on the left, and otherwise, who are perfectly fine with accepting that most folks have sincerely held views. Only — and here’s the kicker — they surmise that the sincerely held views of these folks are wrong, while theirs are right.
On the other hand, nearly all the children or adolescents with whom I’ve philosophized over the decades don’t do that; it hasn’t yet been inculcated in them by their elders to do so.
It’s not that they assume that all positions are equally right, or wrong — that anything goes. No way. And it’s not at all that they assure that right or wrong has nothing to do with it.
Rather, our younger brethren are naturally disposed to give any and all views offered during a Socrates Cafe or Philosophers’ Club equal consideration — far from meaning that all views are equal, it simply means that most views should be equally considered, scrutinized, plumbed, interrogated, to find out how much rightness or wrongness they have.
And this pervasive disposition among our young, for giving equal consideration, especially comes to the fore when a view is presented to them that they find unfamiliar or at odds with their own way of seeing, being, doing. They don’t find this off-putting, terrifying or threatening like adults do — they find it thrilling.
They rise to the challenge, scrutinize such proffered views thoroughly, chew on them a good while. And all the while they reserve judgment, curious to see whether the unfamiliar or alien view just offered, and so different from their own, is one that merits or requires that they adjust or alter or overhaul their particular perspective.
Even if they ultimately are more entrenched in their own perspective then ever, even if this happens, there is still a transformative element, for the very fact that they genuinely opened themselves to other and often vastly disparate stances — and compared them, seriously, with their own, and with a willingness to alter their perspective if they feel it’s called for. And they don’t see this as ‘flip-flopping,’ as an adult might. Rather, they see this as an opportunity for growth, for change, for expanding their horizons.
Adults, on the other hand, all too often feel that if they really and truly open themselves up to vastly different perspectives and approaches, that if they don’t stay ‘true believers’ and cling for dear life to the stance they already hold, they’ll fall into some sort of nihilistic abyss; that it’ll lead to a blurring of their identity, of their stance on live and living. They are fearful.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth, if only they had the courage of our youth to realize this. What it does prospectively presage is that they have a golden opportunity to develop a firmer foundation by subjecting their view to closer personal scrutiny and determining whether it really does past muster.
To do this requires great chutzpah.
Kids have it, we adults need it, now more than ever, if we’re going to quit setting deplorable examples for our youth of engaging in shouting matching and screaming contests, simply because, deep down, we are afraid to engage thoughtfully with those who see things differently than we do, because we’re afraid it might lead to a changing, evolving, expanding self on our part — a self that is forever a work in progress, a sculpture in the making.
More’s the pity. Because such a self is the only self worth having.
It all begins with equal consideration — entertaining with all your mind and might perspectives far different from your own, and being open to the possibility that it might lead you to (heaven forbid!) alter your outlook.
Be not afraid. Look around for your nearest kid, engage her in an inquiry, and by her example let her show you the way to greater growth. Lets your own example of being close to such possibilities weighs and preys on her, and shunts her own possibilities for greater human being and doing.
What if our stance in the world was one of, “What if….”
Like, “What if I think I’m right, I’m just about totally sure I’m right, but…..I just might be wrong. Maybe a teensy weensy bit. Maybe a lot. Maybe (oh, perish the thought), totally.”
What if our stance was, “I can’t stand your view. I find it viscerally repugnant. But I’ll hear you out. I want to know your story. I want to know why you’re coming from where you’re coming from.”
What if you reserved judgment and gave a thorough hearing to the person whose view you found objectionable — not just for a moment but for a day, or more, while you considered it longer? Gave it serious, even equal, consideration to your own closely cherished perspective?
What if you did this, and it turns out that nine times out of ten, or 99 out of a 100, you were still convinced that your view was the sounder one, that it stood up to scrutiny better than ever?
But what if, one time out of ten, or a hundred, you concluded this wasn’t so at all, and you altered or amended your outlook based on this ‘equal consideration’, no matter how reluctantly you did so at the outset?
Would that be so bad? Or would it be, as Thomas Jefferson would have said, a great good. As I wrote in Constitution Cafe: Jefferson’s Brew for a True Revolution, Jefferson held that one “cannot have his way in all things” when engaged in inquiries and deliberations; rather, one must “acquiesce on seeing that of others preponderate at other times.”
Indeed, “(w)ithout this mutual disposition,” Jefferson asserted shortly after he became president — at a time when deep political rifts already were developing among Americans — “we are disjointed individuals, but not a society.”
So let’s become ‘jointed’ again. Equal consideration is the way to go if we are to do so. Just as your run-of-the-mill kid. She’ll set you straight.