Learning

I've been very quiet on my blog recently.  And I've even had long stretches of time when I've been relatively quiet on Facebook as well.  One of the reasons is that I find that sometimes I learn more when I talk less.  Often I find that being vocal about certain things only makes me angry and causes conflict with other people.  So in some ways I've tried to reduce or eliminate that by being less vocal, by reading and listening more and talking and writing less.

One of my favorite people to follow is David G McAfee.  He is a skeptic.  He's an atheist.  He's made it his career to promote critical thinking and skepticism.  He addresses not just religious ideas, but all sorts of superstitions and other unfounded claims.  The thing that I admire most about him is his ability to admit that he's wrong.  He does not seem to be emotionally connected with his views, which helps him to abandon a view if he finds it to be incorrect.

One very simple example was that he had referred to himself a scholar of religious studies.  It was pointed out to him that the word "scholar" often means something stronger than just having a degree, that it should only be used by someone who is well-published in peer-reviewed journals and can be considered expert in a subject.  He promptly changed any use of the word "scholar" that he had to "graduate", to indicate only that he had graduated with a degree in religious studies.  This is a very simple thing and may seem quite insignificant to most onlookers but to me it is very significant.  I believe that if I were in his place I would stubbornly insist that the word applies and I would continue using it, which would then cause anyone who objected to the use of the word to be angry with me and perhaps cause tension.  Yet David was able to simply accept this and change his verbology.

I have changed my views on many things in my life.  I've gone from Mormon to atheist, from homophobe to out gay man, and from socially conservative to socially liberal.  Clearly I can change my views.  If I witness new data to support a differing view, I can eventually come around to the better way of thinking.  But I would be lying if I said that this is natural to me.  It is not natural.  I resist it.  I go down in flames.  I fight, I argue, and I become very angry when I am contradicted.  I wish that it were not so.

I would like to be more open to differing viewpoints.  I would like to be more accepting of ideas that contradict my own.  I would like to be able to read through a document that criticizes my worldview without becoming angry.  I would like to be able to discuss issues with friends who disagree with me without making it personal.  I know that all of these things would help me better myself.  I would be able to learn more easily, I would be able to arrive at a better understanding of the truth if I adopted these principles.

A similar but slightly different example is Penn Jillette.  He is very open to listening to people with differing beliefs.  And he seems to be very good at listening and trying to understand their viewpoint.  Of course, he's very vociferous about telling people why he thinks their ideas are stupid.  But I don't see anything particularly wrong with that.  I believe everyone should feel comfortable voicing eir own opinions on any particular subject, even if that opinion is just that someone else's opinion is garbage.  At any rate, he says that he reads things all the time that his friends send him that are radically different from what he believes.  I should do that more often, and not just to troll them or make myself angry, but to try to understand and broaden my mind.