Friday, June 12, 2015


I love to debate. I know, that's a shocking revelation to many of you. But it's the truth. I enjoy taking a proposition, an issue, or an event out of the day's news and thinking about it, formulating an opinion and searching for a person to talk with. And I'm lucky in that I have many friends with whom I can do this. Those are wonderful occasions and I really enjoy them.

Sometimes, though, the "discussions" descend into something less enjoyable. I am as much at fault for this happening as other people are. And, because of this, I have spent some time thinking about thinking. Let me explain.

In my family life, in my professional life, and in my relationships with friends, I can recall far too many times when arguments, name calling, and insults erupt in place of debate. And on social media, the degeneration has reached appalling levels. A person expresses an idea, and it's an open invitation for complete strangers to hurl invective upon him/her, all in the guise of "free speech" or the "right to my opinion." This has forced me to give the matter much thought ( get it ? "much thought") and has led to some conclusions.

We often descend into the "knee jerk" syndrome because it fits in with our need to express an idea quickly and to get immediate feedback or reaction. Also, the knee jerk is intellectually lazy. A knee jerker gives an immediate reaction to a proposition and feels something like " my work is done: I have an opinion and I will stick to that opinion to the death because it's my right to do so." A knee jerker will not accept the notion that the first reaction might not be correct, nor is any other reaction or thought valid because the knee jerker has "made his/her stand."

And you cannot have a real, valid discussion or debate when that occurs. Believe me, I've thought about this!

So, after much thought (again!) and careful consideration ( I'm on a roll here) I offer three simple steps to help all of us think ... at least I think this will work.

Step One: formulate an initial response to an issue or propostion. That's just a fancy way of saying "go ahead and knee jerk to an idea." Why not? It's human nature: we all do this. If something happens or comes to our attention, we react: "oh, that's nice", or "isn't that horrible?", or "that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."  The classic knee jerker stops at this point. But I have tried, in my mellow old age, to force myself to accept that I do indeed knee jerk, but I also force myself to continue on.

Step Two: ask some questions about your knee jerk. This can take time and offers a person a chance to do some interesting and possibly painful self-examination. These questions are as follows:
     - why do I feel this way?
     - is my knee jerk harmful or insulting to others?
     - do I look or sound like an idiot or stubborn ass with my knee jerk?
     - is it possible that I could be wrong in my knee jerk?

Step Three: try to see the other side(s) of the issue after you have knee jerked. This one is really hard to do, but, when I actually try to do this, it has two interesting results. It can either prove that your knee jerk was actually right, or can show that you really need to think further and accept that there is "more than one way to skin a cat."

When these three steps are completed, you can at least slap yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for actually having thought an issue through. Now, go ahead and discuss it with friends. But be sure to listen to other ideas: concede some ideas to be true, but stick to your guns on the ideas you have thought carefully about.

And finally, ( and this is hard for me ) learn that debate and discussion should not be about "winning" ... it should be about sharing ideas.

Now that I've finished thinking about all this, I think I might have gone too far. It's very presumptuous to think this way. I think I'll delete this.

No, wait! That's a knee jerk ! I need to think about what I've just thought about ! Calm down, think this through.....

What do I do ?? ARRRRGGGHHHHH !

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