Strange, perhaps, but one of the many things I love recalling about my father are the arguments we had when I was a teenager in the early ’70s. We debated everything. He challenged me. He frustrated me. Once during a particularly heated disagreement, I felt he was completely dismissing my views so I shouted, “I have a right to my opinion!” He responded, “If you don’t know why you believe what you do then it’s not an opinion. It’s just an argument.”
I recently visited a blog that had been suggested to me by whatever stealthy logarithm keyword protocol blah blah thing determined that I would or should be interested in. Obviously this recommendation came from some lord of dark magic with a twisted sense of humor because it quickly became clear that the opinions expressed in this blog are in stark contrast to my own. I bolted after the fifth sentence. Skedaddled right out of The Other Side’s view of things before it had a chance to contaminate years of accumulated wisdom that I cherish as much as the last piece of Godiva chocolate in my hidden stash.
But there’s a “but.”
Seconds later, I returned. I’d initially been intrigued by the article’s title and immediately appreciated the writing style. What was I worried about, anyway? Wasting ten of my day’s 1,440 minutes? (Nah. Definitely not that.) What if that fifth sentence was the only one out of 150 that I would have disagreed with? What if there was some remote chance that I wouldn’t totally hate the piece?
I didn’t consider the possibility that I could learn something from it.
But I did.
There were a few interesting, verifiable facts that were new to me, but that wasn’t surprising. I’m aware that I don’t know everything about any subject. What I really learned by finishing the article was more valuable than these few facts. I learned that even if I disagree with someone, it forces me to challenge my ideas and the reasons why I defend them. It can actually strengthen my argument. It also encourages respect for other points of view and that is never a bad thing. Refusing to listen to or read another person’s well-thought opinion actually weakens my own. And I learned that everything The Other Side believes is not dead wrong.
I also learned that we value our own opinions more highly than anyone else does. This arrogance boxes us in and makes our world very small. We would never think outside the box if we were never challenged. There wouldn’t be any reason to.
Without being forced to think outside the box most of us would never recognize that we are inside the box.
Mathematicians and scientists know this. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have the theory of relativity, E=mc2, quantum mechanics, computers, penicillin, pi, microscopes or microwaves, x-rays, the golden ratio, organ transplants, vaccines, rockets, combustion engines, refrigeration, calculators, dialysis . . . Everything we learn is the result of everything others have learned. There really is nothing new under the sun. There is nothing new we can imagine. Nothing. We can only build on others’ opinions, theories, and imaginations. No matter how original we think we are, that idea for a better mouse trap or science fiction novel relies on what we’ve learned from previous mouse traps and science fiction novels.
The only way to think outside the box is to stretch our minds rather than block all opposing opinions. We create nothing when we accept only the information that confirms what we already believe. [confirmation bias]
How about stretching instead of blocking?
Stretching is about lengthening, expanding, or extending something without breaking or tearing it. Blocking is about making movement or flow difficult or impossible.
If you and I expand our minds by at least cutting a window in our box to face some questions and challenges, we will find that if our beliefs are worth anything we will keep them intact. They will not break or tear. But if we block diversity of thought, if we restrict or stop the flow of opinions that aren’t like our own, then we don’t really have an informed opinion, do we? What we have is a box full of our own arguments. Arguments with no meaning because they are self-contained. They go nowhere. We will not let them out of the box for fear that they will not survive outside.
I finished reading that blogger’s post and though it did not change my views, it grew them. I thought about things that I hadn’t thought about before and I not only understand why he believes what he does, I better understand why I believe what I do.
What do you think?