I’m not an idiot.
OK, if you’ve seen me accidentally blow something up or stand on a rolling, spinning office chair to reach something high, you may disagree with that. Heck, I’ll be the first to tell you that sometimes I do some boneheaded things with comedic results, but in all seriousness…I am not an idiot.
To the contrary, I’m actually a fairly well educated person with good common sense, excellent creative problem solving skills and an IQ test score that simply must have been a mistake. (Lucky guesses on a lot of the questions.) Even so, if you and I have differing opinions on any given topic, you may want to think I’m an idiot.
As a professor I spend my days with humans half my age who are just dipping their toes into the pool of adulthood for the first time. Generally speaking, these students find themselves making their own choices about life, morals and values without the direction of their parents for the first time ever. I’ll admit it’s entertaining to watch them become so passionate about tattoos, politics and spirituality. They’ll be loud about it in class as well as in their personal time and with relatively no life experience at this point, they’ll even be quick to mock and ridicule the people around them with different views. I’ve had 20 year olds who looked down on my intelligence level when they found out I had strong Christian spiritual beliefs. They just couldn’t believe that I could be so naïve! I smiled as they sat there so above it all knowing full well they had never been put in a situation where they had to exercise real faith in anything. It gives me hope to know this is the beginning of their journey instead of the end. I guess if adolescence teaches us anything it’s that the growing process is not always a pretty one.
I’m not sure if it’s modern culture or if it’s more of an American thing but many of us have lost our ability to disagree with one another and still have an intelligent discourse.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” -Aristotle, Metaphysics
It used to be the case that people would go to college not to get a job or find a career, but to learn how to think. College was the place where young adults learned how to engage in the discovery of new ideas. Students were encouraged to investigate observations and facts so that ideas and opinions could be formed. Entertaining questions and investigating opposing concepts was an active part of education. In a time when so many people go to college, modern society is apparently filled with very uneducated minds, at least according to Aristotle.
I blame TV. Everything from prime time programming to the local news is designed to evoke an emotional response from viewers. We tune in and find ourselves being asked to take sides. We pull for sitcom characters as they bumble through the story. We are lured into wanting a particular contestant to win on a goofy talent show because we are shown their emotional backstory and now we don’t care if they are really the most talented performer, their story was compelling so we call and vote for them anyway. If you think about what happens to us on this level, perhaps it’s easier to see how we are manipulated by producers and programmers. If, on a show based on talent, we are compelled by the story to pull for a contestant who is not the most talented….maybe you can see how the news media might use the same tactics to evoke an emotional response from us regarding local or national issues? With the right angle and the right quotes, the issue becomes less about the truth and more about the way the story is told. And when we’re told on a more national level that we must choose sides between two less than desirable options, we may get caught up in the stories being told and forget that we have very specific, individualized values that are not represented by either available choice. We end up joining a team that doesn’t really characterize what we believe.
Maybe it’s not just TV. Maybe we share the blame.
These days it seems we raise our human offspring to be mental robots. As parents, we want our children to be obedient. We want them to be like us. And because we do not feel confident in our reasoning or our decision-making, we certainly do not want our kids asking us questions about how we arrived at our decisions. That would be embarrassing, right? If a kid simply asked why we held to a certain moral value and we couldn’t articulate it with a logical argument based in fact, we would look dumb. We just can’t have that, so let’s not encourage questions from our kids and if they do happen to ask a good question, let’s just say “because that’s the way it is” and move on. Because if our kids start to ask questions and think for themselves they might grow up to have different opinions than us. And since we tend to think of different as bad, we cant let that happen. So if our children fall in line, they mimic our values and beliefs not based on careful consideration and experiential learning, but because that’s what someone told them once.
What kind of adult does that child become? I think a quick glance across traffic will answer that for you. The car in front of you will have a political endorsement sticker. But that sticker will not just support one candidate, it will simultaneously insult another candidate. As if to say, “only a complete idiot could support that person”. The car beside you will have a religious sticker. But that sticker will be carefully worded to not just support a particular faith, but to also use guilt or pressure or even political parties to back that faith. And don’t even get me started on the college football goofballs who sit at the ready at a red light to give the finger to the person in front of them with the opposing local team sticker on their car. You like Clemson football? You must have a low IQ. Because one of those things has to do with the other, right?
Trivial things like football teams, temporary things like politics and important things like core values all come down to personal belief. When I believe that the Cubs are my favorite baseball team, I am saying that I have chosen to support this team. I am not saying they are the best team in baseball on any given day/year (/century as far as the Cubs are concerned). All I am saying is that for fairly unimportant reasons that are totally unrelated to rational thought, I choose to hope this team wins. This does not make me intelligent. This also does not make me unintelligent. It is a choice I have made and it reflects only a portion of who and what I am as a human. At the same time, if you choose to hope the Yankees win, that choice does not mean you are a bad person. It does not give me any indication of your intelligence level and it does not mean that we cant be friends.
But what if you’re one of those Republicans? Or even a Democrat? The same facts apply. We should be able to have a conversation and identify aspects of our belief system that line up with a particular candidate’s platform without getting into an argument, accusing each other of being dumb or comparing people to Hitler.
Intelligent discourse and discussion of ideas is not easy. It requires observation and careful gathering of facts. Think of these as the ingredients for a recipe. A cook will gather the ingredients first, carefully measure out each one and compare the recipe to their own tastes, experience and current needs. The cook may then follow the recipe or make adjustments for taste and or quantity. The ingredients (or facts) must come first. Then they can be combined according to the directions to create the meal (or opinion). Gathering the right ingredients can be a hassle. I know people who are quick to make substitutions for ingredients they may not have. Some people just use off brands or lesser quality ingredients than the recipe desires. Others will leave out things they don’t like or they’ll cut the sugar or use low fat substitutes. When we think of gathering the facts some of us will allow technology to make us lazy. We’re already on Facebook anyway, so why not just rely on what we see there as our factual information? That inflammatory headline that links to an article about that terrible candidate? Heck, I don’t even need to click on that one. I’ll just read the headline and file it away with my “facts” about that person. I’ll also wonder how anyone could justify voting for someone who kicks puppies like the article said. Now you’ve used two cups of saccharine instead of two cups of sugar. Your cookies are going to taste terrible. Facebook, internet articles, things we hear people say, these are all substitutes for real facts. These are all things that prevent us from having intelligent discourse with those who may have different opinions.
Fact checking is hard. Name calling is easy.
It’s also very easy to just put on someone else’s beliefs and wear them as your own. That requires much less cranial effort than investigating different ideas, researching facts through reliable sources and synthesizing that information into your own beliefs. But you are not Fox News. You are not CNN. You are not the very opinionated dude on talk radio and you are NOT Kanye West. You are a human who was raised with a very specific set of values and beliefs acted out around you as you grew through your younger years. You are a human who then grew old enough to ask questions and began to figure some things out for yourself. You are a human who grew into an adult who is expected to have their own set of values and beliefs based on a mixture of all that history, research and that ever-important element: life experience. With all that very individual history mixed up together, there’s just no way your values and beliefs line up exactly with anyone else’s. You can’t cut and paste your beliefs.
You may also wish to consider the very real possibility that you may eventually change your mind about something. I know it seems so unlikely when you have such passionate allegiance to your ideas right now. But that’s what life does to us; it changes us. Remember, at one point in human history we were certain that the sun revolved around the Earth. We were also certain that the Earth was flat. Heck, not so long ago some of the greatest medical minds were convinced that if you were feeling bad they just needed to cut you open and let you bleed out all the bad stuff.
From this side of these archaic ideas, they seem silly to us. In the same way, at some point in your life you will look back at what you believed in 2016 and you’ll laugh at how naïve you were. You’ll discover that those people you thought were idiots because of their beliefs are now your friends. And they’ll seem a whole lot wiser then.
We’re not going to agree on everything. Ever. Perhaps though, we could decide to agree on this one thing: Let’s agree to respect disagreement. Different is not bad. Different is not dumb. Different is just different. And as I told my 10 year old last week, if everyone was exactly alike this world would be a very boring place.