Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Definitive Expression: What's To Fear?

Lately, I'm beginning to sense in myself a literary weasel at the helm of my compositions. So many things I observe or comment on "seem" this way or "appear" that way. Seldom do I articulate the preciseness—or definitiveness—of ideas, unless of course they accommodate my prejudices.

What's wrong with taking a stand? Why my aversion to certainty? I suppose some might see it as being in keeping with my flexibility in moral matters, i.e., being more of a consequentialist and not an absolutist. Or could it be that I don't like confrontation and this is my way of avoiding it? Either way, I am of the mind that the sharing of ideas doesn't lend itself to certainty. Certainty conveys a subtle message to one's audience that you are not open to criticism and have answers for everything always at the ready. I am more likely to say to someone who might tell me the world is flat that his understanding of things is somewhat skewed. Somewhat skewed? Why wouldn't I just say, "You are dead wrong, sir. Don't you know the world is round?"

Precisely because I fear losing this person's engagement. That's why. Inflexibility increases the risk of sounding unreasonable—of indeed, being unreasonable—and possibly ruining an otherwise healthy debate. Being convinced of the correctness or truthfulness of one's own ideas is precisely when flexibility is needed most. We must dare to invite challenge to that which we believe ourselves to be most certain about.

Having been raised in a black and white world where nuance was a rare commodity has left me yearning for all of the wonderful shades gray that enrich us the most. I admit my goal is to find the common ground, to strike a balance, grasp the subtle, and amicably coexist with my ideological adversaries, not assault them with overconfidence and arrogant certitude.

Maybe I am a weasel after all.

1 comment:

  1. I can relate to this. Boy, can I!

    But I can't help but believe that this flexibility usually demonstrates superior intelligence. Because telling the flat-earth guy his perspective is slightly skewed means that you understand WHY he sees the earth as flat. You also understand that he may not have had the benefit of an education to lift him out of this primitive mindset he's in. The absolutists are the one who will give you the "Just because you're poor doesn't mean you can't obey the law the same as anybody else" routine -- they see everything from their perspective. Just one example, obviously, but it covers a lot of ground. Celebrate your broad-mindedness.