Disagree-able

Woke up to a great email from the Daily Stoic, that I’ll quote in it’s entirety here:

The response to the Daily Stoic emails can be a fascinating peek into human psychology. One email, because it makes a fairly objective point about Donald Trump’s temperament, produces a record number of unsubscribes. Another, because it mentions Winston Churchill without condemning British imperialism, gets all sorts of angry comments on Facebook. We are alternatively criticized for being too liberal and too conservative, often on successive days and sometimes for the very same email.

It’s not just remarkable the way that some well-intended Stoic practitioners get really upset when their views or political opinions are challenged, but it offers an unsparing look at the dimensions of the filter bubble in which we live and don’t even notice. We take for granted how often our beliefs are confirmed or implicitly validated by the information we consume and the company we keep. Yet, the second the walls of that bubble are breached by something or someone that appears to disagree with our worldview, we act like victims of some profound personal violation. We rear up like a bull that’s had a big red flag waved tauntingly in front of us. We just have to charge it.

In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius talks about practicing with his non-dominant hand so that he can get better (and be more balanced). We should do the same with viewpoints we disagree with. Instead of being upset when someone makes a point we don’t like today, try to really listen. Don’t think about all the ways they are wrong, take a moment to think about where they think are wrong. Assume good faith on behalf of the person on the other side of the issue in question and engage. And if they are not arguing in good faith? Even better—use that as an opportunity to be patient with them. See if you can hold your temper and just let them do what they do, without it ruining your day.

This is not only how we get stronger and better as people, but it’s also how civil society is supposed to work. Debate and disagreement are good. Diversity of opinion is good. If you let it bother you, you will never be at peace and, paradoxically, actual peace will be less achievable as well.

***

This dovetails on a series of discussions I was having with a friend regarding altogether unrelated topics, but in which the battle lines are also drawn similarly: that is, disagreement is intolerable, and cogent, valid arguments – even from people with verified, field-proven expertise far beyond that of the online opinionators – are simply ignored as not in Keeping with the Faith.

The same holds particularly true in the personal defense, martial arts, and tactical communities. Perhaps because people – rightly –  take the high consequences element of those teachings seriously, or have a deep seated need for their validation, some seem compelled to elucidate, educate, and if all else fails excoriate others whom they deem unenlightened.

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Another issue arises here: the opinionators for and against often have very little practical basis for what they believe. This is different from a political argument, where opinion and feeling is the whole point. If instead we are talking about, say, self defense for women, it goes beyond opinion: it can be dangerous when tactics and techniques are demonstrated in a way that is completely divorced from reality. A recent Interweb firestorm arose regarding self defense offerings posted by an instructor who was clearly simply responding to public demand, and yet was also clearly out of her depth when it came to understanding violence. She just had no idea what an actual violent assault was like and so had no frame of reference to offer what she was teaching as valid.

I find myself torn. Over the years I started to avoid these little tempests, in particular when I saw people I respected abandon valid debate and simply short-hand anyone who disagreed with them  as “douches.”  Even when the douche had a point.

Then when I  disagreed…..you get the picture.

I’ve found its the same with some self defense students, newer officers and recruits that come under my baleful gaze either in the field or in training situations. Most seem to want to learn, but frankly don’t put in much effort. Some take it to heart and hit the ground running, and others…well, some people you just can’t reach. So I really no longer bother with the first and the last categories. Unless there is a need for a hard reset because they are placing themselves and others in unacceptable danger.

That happens from time to time, sometimes with the same people.

The harder thing comes when those ostensibly in a position to opine, and that are mostly right, just don’t know where they are wrong. Not that this stops them… They cover the holes in their own understanding through appeals to authority –  the experience of OTHER people – and yet still have no problem teaching – confidently, somehow – beyond what they know.

We have to be very careful of that. Both in our instructors and in ourselves.

 

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