Sorry, Can’t Hear You over the Voice in My Head

Posted on September 1, 2011

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I have a broad circle of friends and acquaintances who bring with them a wide diversity of thoughts and belief systems and that’s a good thing.  I may not have always liked it but over time I have learned to appreciate the many challenges to my beliefs brought by friends, let’s say, who are less than favorably disposed to my beliefs or more frequently, what they mistakenly believe my beliefs to be.

The two most difficult things to patiently endure when discussing one’s personal beliefs with others has to do with:

  1. Navigating the minefield of predisposed prejudices, assumptions and opinions that others have about your beliefs before you even have the chance to explain your position.  It’s those Blind Spots that we all have.  Sometimes that filter can be so strong, that they may not even be able to hear you over the voice in their own head.
  2. Controlling your emotions when someone, intentionally or mistakenly, misrepresents your position.  It’s the Straw man logical fallacy where you hold position X; someone disregards certain points of X and instead presents a similar position Y.  Y being a distorted version of X.  They then attack Y, concluding that position X is false.

“A straw man is a component of an argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.[1] To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.”  – Wikipedia.com

For those of you who know me, it won’t come as a surprise when I say that I have my assortments of flaws and failings.  I struggle to respond to the above challenges in emotionless, well-reasoned manners, but I am not always successful.  My brother taught me, through frequently irritating repeated modeling, that the first person to become emotional in an argument is the loser.  It does not fully validate my brother’s supposition, but since then I have found several scientific studies done where the findings seem to support the notion that humans in a state of emotional arousal think less rationally than when they are calm.  If only they had witnessed the sight of two teenage brothers heatedly arguing amongst themselves but forcing themselves to express everything politely and in an emotionless and yes, often condescending tone to each other.  It is strange the things that you learn from your siblings.

One other thing to know about me is that I often speak without thinking things all the way through and this has resulted in me unintentionally offending people with an off-the-cuff remark.   I do not set out to do that, but it happens.  My friends understand that, call me on it, accept my apology and give me a pass without withdrawing their friendship over it.  They know my heart.  Over the internet, it’s not as easy to build this level of trust and longsuffering, but it is still my hope to find other kindred souls out there.  If I do say something that offends you, know that it was not my intent and I hope that you can extend me a bit of grace and forgive me that indiscretion.

As challenging as it can be to try and engage people in meaningful conversations, my experience has been that it is worthwhile endeavor – for both parties.  Sure, it is fraught with pitfalls, as there are many arrogant individuals (suffering from Know-it-all-ism’) who are more interested in hurting others than having a meaningful exchange, but it’s a risk that is well worth it.  It exposes us to new ideas and ways of thinking about issues, but also challenges us to think more deeply about issues; rarely are they as simplistic as we like to make them.  Frequently, they are incredibly complex and unable to be expressed completely in less than 1,000 words.

Tomorrow I am going to share another passionate email exchange with some friends challenging me on my beliefs.  It was an incredibly illuminating discussion because it forced me to consider something that I had never thought deeply about before (which as ‘Why did Jesus speak in parables?’), includes many examples of the Straw Man fallacy and they drew out from me a deeper more mature understanding than I had beforehand.

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