Sunday, March 22, 2009

Confronting Misconceptions: To Do, or Not To Do?

Confronting Misconceptions: To Do, or Not To Do?

In the course of an email conversation, one of my friends told me that he did not see it as his job to correct other people’s misconceptions. We have not pursued this thought any further, but it got me to thinking: if it is not his job, or my job, to correct what we see as misconceptions, whose job is it? If it is no one’s job, are we not setting ourselves up for abuse?

I realize that it accomplishes nothing to offer advice which has not been requested, and it often leads to alienation. Hence my dilemma: what contribution can I make when I perceive other’s misconceptions which affect my life/liberty in a negative manner? Is there any constructive way to persuade those who, for instance,
 advocate public prayer in a public school, that this is a violation of the freedom of those who think differently? I do realize that most people who advocate prayer in public schools are not readily appreciative of the importance of individual liberty and how public prayer violates this liberty.

Other examples of how individual liberty is abused by those who believe that they know what is right for everybody are:laws prohibiting the use of marijuana, prostitution, gambling. How do these activities infringe on anyones’s liberty? And, if they don’t infringe on anyone’s liberty, why are there laws against them?

If you and I believe that a change in attitude is needed in order to protect individual liberty, how do we make a contribution to this end? Given that most people of religious conviction will react negatively to any suggestion that they change their thinking, what options are there? To do or say nothing does not seem like a useful alternative. I dare say that very little progress in human relations has ever been made by being silent. Didn’t it take outspoken leaders to (a) eliminate slavery, (b) do away with prohibition, and (c) write a constitution which incorporates the concepts of the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

So, my dilemma is: do I speak up, or not? Do I attempt to get those whom I perceive to be deceived to change their way of thinking, or not? Do I let my grandchildren and great-grandchildren know where I stand (and run the risk of alienating their parents) or not? At this point I feel that, if I do not do something, my only alternative is to “pray for a miracle”; and, since I don’t know anyone who has miracle powers, I am back to where I started.



At Sunday, March 22, 2009 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank, I appreciate your situation....Almost no one changes their attitude or belief through direct challenge. Quite the reverse, they "dig in" in response to what they perceive as a threat.

It seems the "dialog" vs. "debate" model is what is needed. Instead of debating the issue with them, the only alternative is to initiate a dialog and ONLY with questions, at least initially.

For example, try "What do you see as the impact of your belief on someone who does not believe in God or feels prayer is out of place in publicly funded institutions?" Then parapharase their answer back to them as precisely and honestly as you can. If there are holes in their argument, likely they will hear those in your paraphrase (if they have not heard them in your questioning). If they still do not see any error in their thinking, move on. You cannot play a violin to a pig--it wastes good music and it annoys the pig.

Speaking louder or more energetically or with more passion is wasteful also. The ONLY hope is to challenge their thinking with "what if" questions which might cause them to think more deeply.

A lot of right wingers regurgitate back what Rush Limbaugh has said, for example, but cannot produce a valid example to support their belief. Still they might be willing to consider another view expressed as an innocent, open question coming from someone genuinely intellectually curious about the subject.

As for sharing your viewpoint with the grandchildren or the like, I want only that my grandchildren are open to ALL viewpoints, mine included. So, again, I would hope to provide them with critical thinking skills by asking them to turn over ALL ideas completely until they have satisfied themselves they have come up with an intellectually honest view of their own. I would calmly put mine into the mix as one of many.

Philosophy is not well served by evangelism or skewed logic. "Methinks thou dost protest too much" is frequently the reaction to fiery expression of a point of view expressed in zealot fashion.

In the end, all any of us can do is calmly express our viewpoint and let it lie there to be examined, accepted or rejected. In so doing you ARE speaking out--as many did about slavery and other issues. Unfortunately LOGIC is not the best sales tool for this purpose; getting someone to re-examine their position is better and more likely to persuade.


At Sunday, March 22, 2009 , Anonymous Anonymous said...


Are you equating "misconceptions" with "beliefs"? If so, I think "correcting" may not be the only, or appropriate option. So I would agree with Jerry that all you can do is express your viewpoint and hope for the opportunity to have some constructive discussion with those that see things differently. But I don't think starting any such discussion with the feeling that "I've got to correct this persons misconception" will very often get the desired results.

I read an editorial the other day that was on somewhat the same subject. All I really remember, though, was the closing comment - "it's not so much about what you believe as it is about how you behave." That about sums it up for me.



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