Thursday, November 19, 2009

Baby Steps, the path to rhetoric


I believe in personal growth. We all change. We aren't static. Maybe some refuse to accept the presence of change because the gradualness of the process can make perception of it difficult.

Personally, one thing I'm working on, and often failing at, is not attacking people for their beliefs. I am an opinionated man and am not shy about expressing myself. So conflict often ensues when I run into someone else who is also opinionated and outspoken.

One thing that sparked this reflection is a book on rhetoric. The authors argued that too often we assume a person's opinions are intrinsically tied to a person's personality. Therefore, challenging that person is likely to be threatening to that person and will block true discourse. Another author tried to address the barriers to communication by stating: "Superior people hold superior beliefs, thus non-believers are unworthy of equal treatment."

Communication, of course, is about listening and understanding a point of view. It is dispassionately picking apart an point of view and looking for flaws and strengths of an argument. It is not shouting at one another across a table on a TV talk show or across a negotiating table.

I've tried to remain apolitical on this blog, at least over the last couple years. However, I will make this political statement: open and intelligent discourse is a crucial element of democracy. Holding fast to a belief without intellectual curiosity is the path to stratification and solidification of feelings which might threaten the sense of unity that is conducive to domestic tranquility.

So here's to the much slandered concept of true rhetoric. Here's to true communication where listening is an active process and not something that occurs merely while we're catching breaths. And for those of my friends who hear me blast someone and shred an ego or two, remember I'm a work in progress.

Baby steps.

10 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I've been quite upset over the last dozen years at the erosion in civil discourse. No one can merely disagree. They have to attack the other person's character. It's ridiculous, and dangerous.

Steve Buchheit said...

It's like critiquing stories. The critique is about the story, not the author. Unfortunately some people can't define both as separate.

Stephen Thor said...

I'll admit I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to simply offering a noncommittal "Oh," or "Mm-hmm," instead of challenging an opinion. But this has nothing to do with "discourse fatigue" and everything to do with the political machinations required to move about in large swaths of today's society. If I called "BS" on everything I felt I had the intellectual or moral high ground on, I would be darn-near unemployable.

Besides, in an age where folks can turn on 24-hour TV and radio stations devoted entirely to their worldview (or, shudder, from which they derive their worldview), changing one's mind via honed forensic technique is well-nigh impossible. They can just return to suckling the electronic teat of their digital masters.

Boy, I don't usually sound so defeatist. Maybe I need to take some of those baby steps, too.

Jo said...

People have lost the ability to debate the issues, without personally attacking the individual who holds disparate ideas. I have found this on my blog. Whenever I blog about something that is my opinion, people come on and call me names. It's confusing, because we are all entitled to our opinions, and what an awful world it would be if none of us had any opinions at all.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I do so appreciate your visit and kind comments, especially if it is true that you are, as you indicated, not prone to handing out compliments. That makes the one you bestowed upon me much more meaningful and I thank you. You are most welcome to visit anytime.

Best to you.
Pamela Terry

SQT said...

Great post Stu.

I try to remain pretty apolitical on my blog too. Granted, there's no reason for me to go there since my subject matter isn't political most of the time. But it's generally easy to read between the lines and I know you and I don't agree on much politically-- and that's okay because I genuinely like you as a person and know that you're very intelligent.

What's nice about meeting people online and getting to know them before you know their politics is that you're able to separate certain disagreements from the general character of the person. And what I really like about that is that it makes me more open to listening to differing opinions without pre-judgement. That's a lesson I can take with my anywhere.

Stewart Sternberg said...

CHARLES
It is dangerous. When I hear, for instance, someone shout "Take back my country" it immediately makes me wonder from whom...and how? And when people talk about revolution, where do I fit in, am I the enemy? Debate is crucial.

STEVE
Best analogy I've seen.

STEVE THOR...Love that last name.
I think there is a courage factor that must take us past the apathy. People stay in a comfort zone, hiding with folks who will share their opinion and not challenge them, reinforcing the idea that their viewpoints aren't only correct, but also above being challenged.

JO
Thanks for the post. I think the issue with opinions though is that it is important that we can back them up, that we can offer some form of supporting evidence for how we arrived at our stance.

SQT
We are on opposite sides of the political fence, but it's a fence with a gate and we can always walk through. I hope.

Anne Spollen said...

I believe in civil discourse in the intellectual sense. Then someone starts talking about how Sarah Palin wouldn't be such a bad president, and I just lose all my intellectual beliefs.

(Great post!)

Rick said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Stewart.

L.A. Mitchell said...

You? Opinionated? I wouldn't have guessed ;)