Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Other Guy Is Wrong

Growth in wisdom may be exactly measured by decrease in bitterness.

Friedrich Nietzsche
I am one of those who, with many others, has a respect for other people's firmly held beliefs as long as thy are positive, constructive and progressive, be they political, religious or philosophical. As a child I was influenced, as most youngsters are, by the traditional beliefs of the family I lived in. And in my case there was no discussion or disagreement allowed. It was the truth and that was that. A wise person once said "Respect those who seek the truth, beware of those who find it."

Some people's ideas are just plain stupid, but growing up and getting to know people of other beliefs, influences and traditions I was struck by how diverse and complex the world is. To live in harmony with people without losing my own sense of what I thought was right and true I had to develop a tolerance for others' opinions.

But then one day I read an essay for a radio program on ethics which challenged the idea of tolerance. It taught me that to tolerate an opposing idea of right thinking and behavior was to start from the basis of my own unchallenged convictions. The other fellow was wrong and therefore his opinions must be tolerated.

It's true that without tolerance arguments ensue. It's a shameful thing to witness one seeker for truth who is convinced he has found it defensively putting down another seeker for truth. And if they are both convinced they are right and try to convert each other the argument either becomes comical or it leads to war. And as Nietzsche points out where there is bitterness there is no wisdom.

As a result of reading that essay I began to stop thinking of myself as a tolerant person and went looking for something better. The better is to acknowledge that my opinions, beliefs and faith are mine based upon my early influences, my thinking, my research and my life experiences. To realize they are not going to go through any radical change as long as they are honestly held. To understand that the search for truth is an infinite, eternal process and that if another sincere seeker has a different path than mine his journey must be respected. The differences are far less important than the wisdom gained.

There used to be a Museum of Philosophy in New York. There was a computer there that asked you a whole set of questions about your beliefs and opinions. It wasn't a test; you weren't graded. But when you finished and pressed "enter" it gave you a list of a few philosophers who agreed with you. Now, whereas it's nice and cozy to have your own opinions reinforced by thinkers who are more articulate than you are, I was more interested in those who disagreed with me, so I started reading works by people who weren't on the list. And what happened? Behold, a few of them changed my mind about things. I gained some wisdom.

New Improved Weekend Puzzle

Straighten out these titles please.













(dgoo cklu)


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

I am definitely a seeker :o)

pacifica62 said...

The truth for you could be quite different from the truth for me. Growing up we experience a variety of beliefs, influences and traditions, and we form our opinions, our ideas and theories based on those influences. As we get older we might actually listen to someone else's "truth" without feeling threatened or angry and we might even learn something. The point is that a person does not always have to be "right". Without different opinions and ideas our world would be stagnant and dull.

Rose said...

Hmmmmmmmmmmm, I think I would find that Museum of Philosophy in New York quite interesting!

I also found it interesting that you seeked out the others that didn't agree with your views! I would have seeked them out too. Our brains must think alike on many things.

Hugs, Rose

Nance said...

This is a beautifully crafted piece. You sound so balanced and wise, DB, you put me to shame. So, now that I've established that it's impossible for me to attain those heights, I get to wallow down here in the muck for a sec.

I was raised by a Republican feminist so fierce and so dedicated to her party, that, when she died, the state's GOP splashed it all over the paper. The political movers and shakers took over her funeral and turned it into a stump.

She made one mistake in her careful political grooming of her only daughter: she sent me to college in 1966. There, in all the courses they offered on comparative religions, psychology, sociology, and philosophy, I finally heard what the other side thought. I gave their ideas a listen and found them preferable.

I would add that innate temperament--the cut of the jib and the wiring and firing of the neurons--has as much to do with one's philosophy as upbringing does. There's balance for you: nature AND nurture.

If we're talking religion, everybody is more than welcome to adhere to their lights. When it comes to national leadership, the beliefs and philosophies of the group in power can impoverish me, send my children to be killed in an unnecessary war, and make my life a living hell. Been there, done that, got no tolerance for it.

DB said...

Thank you Nance. Much eye opening and ear opening goes on when one emerges into the complex world of ideas with an open mind. I had a similar awakening when I watched the first Eisenhower/Stevenson conflict. I was much too young to vote and had to keep my mouth shut until I was out on my own.