I want to begin sketching out some important themes today, discussions which I’ve promised to myself, and to my friends and readers. To hear anyone declare that they are going after empirical “truth” outright is an instant alarm-bell for most sensibly-skeptical people (what on earth makes him think he knows?) and indeed, I know I do not, and so shall not tilt directly there. What I am pretty good at, is understanding – and not by accident. There are many mental tools we can use to understand each other and the world which can often dissipate vexing bafflement, avoid trouble, and allow us to engage with rare opportunity which we might otherwise miss completely (being distracted, as so many of us are, with stimulus of vanishing relevance).
First off – what are my assumptions? I’m with Malcolm X, who said, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells-it, and I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for, or who it’s against.” This is the finest statement I’ve ever come across, cleary distinguishing principle from tribalism.
I also keep going straight down that same path of full reciprocality – partly out of robust compassion, and partly out of deep genuine curiosity about the breadth and diversity of human experience.
When some people judge art, they first ask themselves, “Do I like this?” and then rifle through their store of insights, trying to decide why that particular overall-impression has come upon them – the ‘whys’ they select then become their ‘explanation’ for their feeling (though they actually entered after the feeling, to justify-it).
When I judge art, I absolutely do try to let it hit-me with the greatest possible emotional and intellectual impact – but I also do my best to keep my ‘self’ out of it. I’m perfectly happy to be captivated by a variety of music that I thought I hated just yesterday, if I’m presented with an example that finally makes it’s aesthetic clear to me.
For my second (intellectual) pass at the artwork, I start from this question, “What was this artist trying to say or achieve here?” Then ask myself, “How well did they accomplish their own goal?” My preference? Irrelevant!
It’s perfectly true that a masterwork by Caravaggio might clash with my curtains at home, but were I to take that as a quality inherent in it (let alone a failing) or allow that subjective truth to constrain my perception of it, I’d be rightly judged an absolute imbecile.
Here’s the thing – I use almost exactly the same principles for trying to understand other people. Do they clash with my curtains? So what? Nothing could possibly be less important – do they have missions and purposes I’ve never heard before? So much the better, new ideas and ways for me to learn from – but only if I show respect.
And this is really important – the approach I’m recommending here isn’t just fair, honourable, and principled, it’s also one-hundred percent FUNCTIONAL. The quickest way to shut anyone down is to insult them foolishly, and pretend we already know what they are about (or whose curtains they should be coordinating-with) without having listened-to them. This is insulting as can be – a habit of ignorance – a way to be a dinosaur!
When we take a bit of time and patience and carefully listen, we always learn – and not just about them and their unique experience of the world – we also get many rich clues about our own personal challenges – remember:
Everyone wants to fit-in, be liked, be helpful, contribute. Almost no one knows how.
Only when we reach out to others with respect and openness, do we give them a fair chance to reach-back to us – which often allows both of our worlds to get bigger and richer as a result!
Please don’t think this means that I don’t encounter many ideas and life-philosophies which I consider problematic and object-to on principle, but productive disagreement must begin with dialogue, not a slap-fight. Should I go from – “That person disagrees with me about something I consider important?” and use that to instantly consider them an essentially lousy person? Secular and religious – all are warned against this sort of infantile and disagreeable arrogance – at very least because the gulf between what we say (and how honestly) and what we do (and how righteously) varies by orders of magnitude between individuals. No mere dogma or rule of thumb will ever suffice.
Instead I enter confident there is something for me to learn from them, that any disquiet I feel is a product of dusty old referents inside my own mind, called-forth and superimposed just-now, to explain transient dynamic interactions of neurochemistry – and the genuine hope that they too will see and seize the particular opportunity we might create together, and leave transformed, however slightly – just as I always aspire to do, with each ‘true’ encounter. ;o)
Yes – more to say on these matters soon… (0ne is well-advised to start with roots, no?)