In Defense of Understanding

I’d like to take some time here to address potential concerns about articles I will write in the future.  

My current goal is to help people understand each other on points of political conflict.  I chose this goal because I am fairly certain that we can only build a world we can all be proud of if we can compare notes with each other on what we want, what we need, and what we fear.  Only by understanding each other enough to compare notes can we combine our strengths to create a constructive and sustainable path forward for our world.  

In pursuit of this goal, I will be writing articles about specific social issues and situations that drive conflict, and how the different groups involved in these conflicts can learn to understand each other enough to resolve the conflict.  In the process, I will be taking a few risks.  

Still no using deconstruction mindset with heavy machinery, though. 

Generalizations

To start with, my future articles will make statements about what different groups of people value and fear in different situations.  These statements are generalizations.  They are food for thought, to get you to think about perspectives you may not have considered.  They are not going to be accurate for all people at all times.  

As such, I don’t want any of you using what I write as a substitute for listening to people and reading what they have to say about what they believe.  What I expect is that you will use what I write to open your minds so you have an easier time getting to know the people you need to work with.  

If you have any questions, I recommend you reach out to a political opponent who’s willing to go into more detail about what they value and believe, or at least point you in the right direction.  There are more of them than you think.  

If you want to add your own perspective regarding your group’s values and fears on an issue I’ve written about here, please comment or contact me.  

It’s not my intention to put anyone in a box.

Fear of understanding

The next risk I take is that my articles may scare people by introducing the idea that their political opponents are not fundamentally different from them, that they have understandable reasons for what they value, what they believe, and what they do in response.  I would like to address the fears related to this idea right now. 

Empathy: It’s not just a word in translucent letters superimposed on a rainbow Spirograph tracing.

Understanding versus agreement

Firstly, just because I describe my understanding of a group of people does not mean I agree with their beliefs, their goals, or their methods.  I will frequently empathize with the perspective of a group I disagree with, because it’s almost always necessary in order to figure out how to stop them from causing harm.  (My next step is usually to figure out how they can get what they want without causing harm, and it’s easier when I consider that they may accept something other than what they ask for, if it fulfills what they want in a way they hadn’t realized.) 

I do not advocate for moral relativism either, at least not the kind that denies our ability to recognize, condemn, and oppose unethical behavior.  I believe that there are objective principles of ethics that exist outside of subjective reference frames.  If there is any disagreement on what those principles are, I want to investigate the possibility that I may be wrong so that I can learn to be more ethical.  

In brief, I define ethical behavior as constructive for individuals and for society, and unethical behavior as destructive for the same.  Some situations entail tough choices and no obvious right answers, but the concept of ethics is still meaningful as a direction to strive for. 

Losing your way

Secondly, you may fear that people may read what I write and abandon your definitions of what is and is not ethical.  You may even fear that will happen to you.  

I don’t want to trick or confuse you into doing unethical things or failing to stand up for ethics.  If you do end up changing your mind about what you believe and value, I want you to make that decision with your whole self, and full awareness of the significance and reasoning behind your decision.  

Likewise, if you feel that what I say is leading people astray from some important value, please reach out to me and help me understand your values and fears better so that I can help others understand and work with you and your values, as I expect you to understand and work with them and theirs. 

And if you ever start seeing something like this, lie down and maybe call a doctor or something.

Becoming discouraged

Thirdly, you may fear learning that you will need to put more work and thought into having a constructive effect on the world.  I realize how demotivating it is to be shown that one’s hard work may not help people as much as it could, or may even actively harm people.  You may even decide that you no longer identify with the values of a group or community to which you currently belong.  I’m sorry for the position that this puts you in, and in every situation I will try to give you a path forward in recompense.  If there’s more I can do, please let me know.  

I know from experience that finding your own path is intimidating.

Using understanding for evil

Fourthly, you may fear that people will use their new understanding of other people’s fears to exploit or manipulate them instead of working together with them to create a mutually beneficial outcome.  

I fear this outcome as well.  However, at this point I fear the results of popular ignorance and foolishness more than I fear the results of democratized knowledge and wisdom.  If society continues approaching conflicts with anger and hostility, things will get worse rather than better.  Only with understanding do we even have the option of building solutions that satisfy everyone.  

To prevent some people from using their understanding of others for evil, I’m counting on the rest of us to understand our own fears enough not to be fooled.  The more we all understand what’s at stake for everyone, the more we can look out for each other and incentivize honorable behavior.  

Destruction is usually easier than creation.  My tools are meant to make creation less difficult, but to create a better hole we still need to work together and put our awl into it.

Conclusion

Understanding the people you disagree with can be frightening, but I suspect your heart of hearts will tell you that it’s vitally important.  I’m here to make the process easier and more effective. If anything I say in future articles seems to disempower you, please let me know so I can change that. 

Just be careful about ascribing overly specific messages to your heart of hearts.

2 thoughts on “In Defense of Understanding”

  1. WOW! This was great! Interesting, easy to read and said it better than i would have! Now we just need to compress it into soundbytes that can spread memetically via our actions in the real world!

    I could use my 5 min open mic/mini-newsletter plan to get *just enough* people outside to listen to messages like this one using surprise, background and rapport that a high percentage of them are inspired to pass it on to some one else and can do that easily for very little time or effort invested!

    I’ll get started on compressing and packaging this article into a memetic virus, hopefully one that can slip past the biases and excuses a lot of people tell to themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

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