I’ve been noodling an idea I’m not sure what to do with. It basically goes like this: Our culture encourages competition under the premise that it breeds progress, but what if it generates only a certain kind of progress and hinders others? Namely, knowledge and understanding.
Just as capitalism inspires businesses to make the better product and come out on top, we butt heads on the individual level. Turn on any talk show and listen to competing sides debate a particular issue. Their goal isn’t to foster understanding; their goal is to win.
I can’t recall ever seeing anyone on TV or any stage in front of an audience yield when proven wrong. It’s so obvious we have an Internet meme for it. I’m sure there’s a subreddit dedicated to sharing videos of people being proven wrong and not admitting it. Watch this recent Jon Stewart interview if you need to see what I mean. Stewart is a bit too aggressive at first, but after a few minutes, you come to understand he’s frustrated because he’s so obviously right, but the other guy just won’t budge even though you can see it in him: he knows he’s been proven wrong, and instead of choosing to grow as a person (something that might let some others who follow him grow as people), he turtles.
The trouble is knowledge and understanding just don’t work under these conditions. They need open, earnest idea and experience sharing. They require generosity, fairness, and good faith. They require concession and admission when you’re wrong. This is how we grow as people. This is how we learn.
Even when teaching debate, I would bet all the moneys the goal is winning, to overcome the other side by formulating the more compelling argument. That’s great for the individual and the winning side’s interest, but it is terrible for the whole. Whoever wins, we lose.
Granted, I do think there is value in striving for the better argument. In so doing, you come to better understand your own ideas, and that’s great.
That said, you should never enter a debate with the goal of proving you’re right. Enter with the goal of earnestly sharing your ideas and experiences because they’re valid, and in so doing, the group objective should be to combine those ideas and find something greater. To learn something together.
I think it would be a mistake to conflate this with compromise. That’s different. I’m also not suggesting there is no such thing as right and wrong. Of course there is. But what I’m talking about here is truth.
I’ve also been noodling the idea that, since each of our individual understandings of reality is subjective and flawed, taken through limited perception, no individual can understand reality alone. Each of our realities isn’t real. To find the real, we need each other.
What a world it would be if we weren’t always trying to beat each other into submission but, instead, working together to discover the thing that is true about our shared reality, something none of us can really fathom on our own.
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