Search This Blog

Friday, January 1, 2016

Listening and Discussion

Over time I have encountered a persistent, self-centric view that we all seem to share. A view in which we assume that if the other party listens to us they MUST agree with us. I understand this view and I, too, hold it.
We hold this idea in our minds, though it is erroneous, because we believe we have come to the best conclusion about any particular topic. Even when we know we are ignorant we believe we have the best conclusion for the knowledge we possess. We believe we are rational and reasoning creatures.
We, as a whole, are wrong.

We are emotional thinkers. We hold to our beliefs out of stubbornness well beyond the point at which our rational minds accept that an alternate viewpoint may, or truly is, superior to our own. We do this to protect our own ego while, ironically, damaging our opponent/partner's perception of our intellect and reasonableness.

"You're just not listening" is the way we apply these thoughts when we are discussing ideas with others and it is usually not true. Opinions are, by their very definition, not absolute; they are not objective. Opinions are never right nor are they wrong. Not liking another person is an opinion; stating that they are a lying thief is NOT an opinion because their propensity for deceit and theft can both be quantified and verified. When there is a difference of opinion it is possible for both parties to listen to the other side and STILL not agree with them. That does not mean there was a lack of listening; it means that there was a lack of agreement on a topic that is subjective. "You're not listening" only applies when someone is rejecting facts because then they are actively rejecting reality that be being presented to them. No matter how much you may want 2+2 to equal 5 it never will, refusing to listen to someone telling you otherwise will not change the reality that the answer is 4.

During social discourse on topics in which on party is trying to persuade another that an opinion is invalid will, inevitably, result in a series of presented points. Each of these points is an attempt to outline the superiority of the overall idea that the speaker is presenting as compared to the idea of the one being spoken to. I encounter this type of discourse regularly and, as someone who truly puts an effort into understanding all of my positions and opinions, I try to ensure that I have my stances challenged often by as many people as I can. These challenges allow me to strengthen the good positions while allowing me to examine better positions to the ones I hold that are inferior.
During these conversations there is a pattern. The pattern is always the same. My opponent will present an idea that is an effort to undermine my position and I will generate a counter to it. I will generate a counter to a point they are making to defend their position. These exchanges continue until one party relents either through frustration or through the comprehension that they held the inferior position. Given how I try to avoid adversarial discussions on topics I am ignorant on I am often presented with "we can't discuss this if you argue everything I tell you." That is a fallacy. That is the very point of the discussion. If my partner is trying to persuade me, through rationality and reason, that my view is wrong then their reasons and rational concepts must be superior in strength and solidity than my own; when they fail I am able to dismantle their entire reasoning. If I can dismantle their reasoning then they do not hold a superior set of reasons for their stance.
The idea that inferior points are worth considering is flawed. If I have encountered the arguments you are making in a previous discussion and I KNOW them to be flawed for whatever reasons and/or data, I will tell you exactly how your arguments are flawed. I will tell you that your stance is inferior and provide you with my reasons for it. This is no unfair; this is not me "not listening;" this is not me "not letting you relay your message." This is me understanding your message and knowing it is flawed as you convey it. This is me telling you that your position is inferior.

If you want rational and intelligent people to agree with your stance you must have the superior stance and be able to tell them why it is superior to whatever stance they currently hold. It is that simple.