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  • Writer's pictureSarahHauer

Who's Right? What's Right? Is That Right?

Vitriol = (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary) bitterly harsh or caustic language or criticism.

There is so much vitriol tossed around these days. If people aren't fighting about one thing, they are fighting about another. Vitriol seems to be the language of the day. Debates about the wars, human rights, the presidential election, religious debates, etc., all seem to be fodder for measuring the value of another human being instead of opportunities for growth and understanding.

This might seem like a topic jump, but, bear with me, it isn't. I recently read a Facebook post where someone asked, "What is the point of learning philosophy?" All the closed-minded and cold-hearted vitriol is the point.

I look at all the fighting happening on college campuses, public streets, tv, social media, and even in private homes. What occurrs to me is the lack of openness to listen to the other side to attempt to find understanding. Not necessarily agreement. Understanding. Empathy.

It isn't only in the open forum for public debate. Individual interactions on private matters and relationship concerns seem to be more heated and more public lately as well. My own life included. I'm not immune.

I'm not saying there is no such thing as right and wrong. On the contrary. I fully believe right and wrong are real concepts. More often than not, we as mere humans are all lost in the areas of discovery where we have to reside when we lack true understanding. We can't see right and wrong if we close our minds to the concept that basic facts available online don't hold all the answers. There are important nuances. Feelings change. Times change. Eureka moments happen so knowledge can grow.

When I see or take part in debate these days, I have this internal vision of people deliberately planting their feet into deep mud, unwilling to even lift a foot out of their own stance on whatever issue is at hand. Because, gee, I cannot be wrong. Can I?

How often is the issue at hand not the true issue deep down?

Isn't in the areas we admit we are wrong or ignorant where we have the most beneficial growth?

We have a myth that educated minds are open minds. That isn't necessarily true. Very often, educated minds are closed off. Closed from reason, empathy, or a willingness to explore new ideas. Knowledge does not equate to wisdom. Wisdom requires something that seems to be in short supply these days: critical thinking.

Most of my adult life, I thought critical thinking came from math. Students often pose the question, "Why do I have to learn math? When will I ever use it?"

Math develops critical thinking skills. If any decision has to be made throughout any given day; most likely, math is involved.

Math takes given data, measures and weighs it, adds and subtracts from it, and helps lead to a logical conclusion. However, the given data doesn't necessarily have to be a given set of numbers. It can be concepts, ideas, or experiences weighed against each other.

Schools teach math. Some schools better than others. Still, it gets taught.

I had a thought recently with all of these close-minded debates surrounding me. Maybe our lack of critical thinking skills is because we are missing another important ingredient in our schools and society: philosophy.

Philosophy does a similar thing as math, but in a much more abstract way. It doesn't measure given data like math. Instead, philosophy looks to extract ideas to measure, weigh, and compare and contrast, with the goal of leading to logical decisions and concepts that help improve life for all. Philosophy takes into account the value of experience, ethics, the action of learning beyond the facts, varying perspective, etc.

Logical decisions don't have much meaning unless there is importance placed on the people involved in those decisions. If one person does not care about the value of a person on the other side of the equation, then the equation will have no intrinsic value outside of the basic numbers. Ethics goes out the window along with humanity and basic decency.

If we don't care about the other side, then why bother to do anything? Plus, if the other side doesn't feel they have intrinsic value in the minds of the opposition, then they don't want to interact either.

Wisdom = (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary) (somewhat paraphrased but mostly copied, look it up yourself) the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships, insight, good sense, judgment, generally accepted belief, accumulated philosophical or scientific learning, knowledge, and more.

Healthy debate requires critical thinking, communication skills including listening, respect, and an ability to comprehend the other perspective. All I see these days is vitriol, which leads to closed minds, ears, and hearts.

We need to not only teach math, we need to teach philosophy, too. We need to take a step back to the world of reading for comprehension of humanity, not just for basic information to hold down a job and pay bills. We need to put art appreciation back into the mix regardless of art ability.

People are people. People are the same wherever we are, even on the other side of the world. People are people. People are different wherever we are, even under the same roof. Both statements are true. How can that be? Philosophy. Learning about what makes people people in all their multi-faceted ways of being.

People have value. Do people have different levels of value? How is that value measured? What are the variables? What are the tools used to measure? What do we do with the knowledge gained by using those tools? Is the world made better or worse by this new or revisited information?

That mud people are standing in when debating, or refusing to have the debate at all, is a form of ignorance no one wants to see in themselves. Instead of admitting they don't know, they go for the jugular by splitting the ambivalence; meaning that when one hears the opinion of another, they jump to the other side of the argument equation as a knee jerk reaction without taking the time for critical thinking to work its magic to consider whether or not this is really how they feel deep down, or if it's even a wise position to take. Once that stance is taken, it must be defended to the end; cause, hey, I can't be wrong here. If I am wrong, then I am a bad person, and I can't be the bad person. Therefore, the other person is the bad person. Maybe. Maybe not.

This is fodder for vitriol. No one grows from vitriol.

Math + Philosophy = Critical Thinking

Let's throw in there art, reading, writing (yes, writing), science, history, and humanities. I'm probably missing a few other things.

That's a lot to put on our kids to learn. Yep. Why do we stop at the end of childhood? Let's promote real education that continues throughout a lifetime and doesn't end with a piece of paper and a letter grade that says you're done.

If what I have written has ruffled some feathers, please take a moment to grab a shovel before our feet get too deeply buried in that mud. I understand it might not get used, but let's have the tool available just in case one of us needs it.

By the way, we don't always have to have the debate. Sometimes the best way to debate someone who wants the vitriol when it isn't necessary is to walk away. Especially when there is a turkey on the table. (Yes, there are times when vitriol is called for. Sometimes.)

Have you been in an argument and wondered afterward, "What just happened?" Might be time to grab that shovel and start digging.

Thanks for reading!


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