Friday, 18 September 2009

Critical Thinking = Open Mind

I have been reading a lot about my new found interest in all things "Skeptical" and one thing sticks out above all else.  The importance of trying to stay open minded and keeping a cool head in the times we are confronted by an issue we don't agree with. 

Being open minded has so many advantages over closing ones ears to anything new that its fast becoming my mantra, and anybody that knows me will tell you that I have been more than a little guilty of closing the door on views opposing my own.   Imagine how much easier the world could run if everybody took the time to digest an opposing viewpoint and to think before opening ones mouth and metaphorically jerking a knee in the  groin of the person you may not have the same beliefs as.

Listening to Richard Saunders of the Australian Skeptics on the Canadian Skeptically Speaking Podcast made me think about my own tactics in dealing with people with strange (to me)  ideas about alternative therapies etc.  Richard warns us not to be confrontational and aggressive in our stance as it can weaken your position.  I pricked my ears up on hearing this as I do want to warn people as to the possible dangers of say, supporting homoeopathy, but I also want to keep some of my friends.  As he rightly points out, if a group of 5 random people you meet at a cocktail party ask you what you think of Reiki and you tell them that you think its a load of bullshit, you are going to offend at least one of them. If you argue that its a load of crap this IS going to happen.  If, however you can make your feelings clear using non confrontational terminology, you have a better chance of prolonging the conversation with all five people and thus increase the chance of one or more of them maybe having a review of their own position on the subject.  People don't like looking stupid and if you can argue without antagonising them, which generally makes them put up a kind of defence against what they perceive as an attack on them, then it has to be better, surely.

Obviously, this is not the easiest thing to do as you yourself are having your strongly held view attacked in a way so your natural instinct is to attack.  This is where the admiration level meter rises all the way to the top for me where people like Dr. Eugenie Scott, Dr. Steven Novella and Brian Dunning are concerned.  Their ability to perform under pressure is legendary.  They do have the upper hand on most of us though in that two of them are fully fledged scientists and the other more or less does the skeptic thing for a living.  Their backgrounds have armed them with a pool of knowledge that we mere mortals have to learn from scratch unless we are also scientists.  But having all of the facts at your disposal isn't a guarantee to winning an argument or getting your point across because at the end of the day, some people just plain refuse to bend when it comes to their personal woo.  If this is the case then we just have to walk away and chalk up a loss without prejudice.  If you have managed to keep cool and dignified you may also still be friends and you live to get the chance to maybe take them on again.  If you waded in with the "this is a load of crap" method, that chance is probably lost along with a certain amount of credibility and possibly at the extreme end of the scale, your friendship.

This is really grass roots stuff and I apologise for anyone reading this for whom this style of arguing is the only way to fly.  But we are not all blessed with fantastic debating skills and it is for those of us that have a voice but don't really know how to use it that I am directing this to. 
So here's to a new beginning for me, open government my own style, "New Marc" after many years of stuffy old me and my strange "don't start him off" views.   I throw open my mind and renounce my own attacks and bitter ranting at the things that piss me off and see if I can find that extra patience needed to change the mind of a believer,  give peace a chance and all that.  I realise I am a tiny wheel in this gigantic machine, probably only an iron filing if the truth be known, but I have aspirations to become a drop of oil and who knows, maybe a fully fledged and well lubricated cog.

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