Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Plea for Healthy Self-Skepticism

I've been thinking a lot about public discourse (or lack thereof) in the U.S. I've been thinking about how communication occurs in public, specifically on social media and news talk shows, by common folk, pundits, commentators, politicians, etc. I feel like all I see, hear, and read are people talking past one another. Words are coming out of people's mouths and keyboards, but little communication is happening.

I posted this on Facebook more than 16 months ago, right before going into a yearlong self-imposed Facebook exile:

I simply have difficulty being quiet when anyone (from either end of the social or political spectrum) makes complicated issues seem overly simple. It is difficult for me to hold my tongue when people make it seem as if they have a perfect understanding or perfect interpretation of things that really can’t really be understood or interpreted in neat little boxes. When we try to make complicated ideas seem simple and clear, we posit people of opposing (but potentially valid) ideas as fools, forces of evil, or run-of-the-mill assholes. Most aren't. Most are people who simply understand and interpret life differently. 
Most of my diatribes on Facebook or elsewhere come down to this: Things are complicated and people need to get it into their heads that these issues are not easy, nor are they clear. People of opposing views may be in error or they may not be, but they have ideas that are worth considering and are usually also well reasoned. To put it another way, people of opposing views may be wrong, but we don't have to dismiss them as idiots or jerks. I simply hope that people can start to have dialogue without being so damn sure of themselves all the time. 
To this end I pose questions. To this end I add contrary bits of information and opposing ideas. Do I have firm stances on some of these political and social issues? Sometimes. But, I'm not about to think I'm an expert or have expert knowledge enough to understand all these things clearly. For that matter, even honest-to-goodness experts don’t have completely clear pictures. This is what I hope other people learn as well, on this issue and almost any other divisive issue out there. Have some damn humility and understand that you don’t understand everything (and probably less than you think you do). I know I don't.
This thought catches my eye: "I simply hope that people can start to have dialogue without being so damn sure of themselves all the time." One of the major problems, as I see it, is that people lack a healthy self-skepticism. That is, whatever the reason (e.g. denial, pride, shame, fear, lack of awareness, embarrassment, machismo, ignorance, etc.), people are unwilling and/or unable to understand and/or admit that they don't know everything.

This poisons everything.

Go ahead. Doubt yourself a little. It's good for you.

I just like this picture. Isn't it cute!

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