Intro: How Dialectical Thinking Can Save the Universe!
Have you ever wondered how Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith might have turned out had Obi-Wan and Anakin really put effort into thinking dialectically? Watch the video below...
(Keep the volume turned down low and read the captions, Anakin's voice during the last half of the video is very loud.)
If dialectical thinking could save an entire galaxy, you should definitely consider learning more about it - read on!
A Bit About Me
Me with my beautiful wife, we have been married for about 3 years!
First I want to relate why the concept of dialectical thinking is personally relevant to me. As a Mormon, Feminist, and Psychologist-in-training, I tend to get into a lot of involved discussions on a wide variety of hot topics. This happened just the other day, in a scenario that might sound extremely familiar to you!
I post something on [insert social media platform here].
Others comment, some with agitated contradictory remarks.
I try to explain where I am coming from, since it seems they aren't getting that.
The whole thing spins out of control and morphs into a crazy argument that I have no interest in but is incredibly hard to end, and now everybody's day is worse, friendships are strained, and nobody has learned anything.
I am no saint here, and I have probably spent the first 90% of my life more like the aggressive commentator than the (hopefully) thoughtful original poster! But whomever the perpetrator is, it's unfortunate just how often we see this kind of unpleasant dialogue break out isn't it? Often at least one, if not all people involved, could be compared to a sailor, clinging to the last remnants of their sinking ship, seemingly only interested only in proving themselves correct.
In a TED talk by Daniel Cohen (2013, Colby College), he talks about how we often percieve argument in a very warlike, adversarial framing. Imagine for a moment that two individuals have a discussion where Person A has an idea/concept, and Person B brings up a multitude of objections/questions to challenge that concept; Person A explains them all with a degree of competence, and thus Person B walks away with a deeper respect for - or maybe even, gasp! believing in - Person A's idea. Most, if asked to judge this interaction, would say that Person A "won" this argument. This mindset betrays the underlying concept that to learn is to lose. Furthermore, in a TED talk by Jesse Richardson (2014, Brisbane) he states that humans have a tendency to feel like it's very bad to be wrong. He opines that it would be good for us to learn that the ideas we hold are not us, and that we shouldn't feel the need to defend them to the death; rather, it is liberating and will fundamentally change our approach to the world if we allow ourselves to change our ideas.
What might the world be like if we all decided to believe a certain ideology and then were never open to alternative viewpoints? Probably much like what the US Congress looks like these days! Almost 90% of Americans agree that the senate does not function as it should. On November 17th 2015, James Matheson (the only Democratic legistlative representative from Utah of his time, and co-chair of the Blue Dog coalition) stated his belief that this gridlock is because the Constitution was designed to facilitate compromise between various ideas and groups, so when our legislators are polarized/unwilling to think & act dialectically, the lack of compromise and cooperation across the "aisle" means that nothing gets accomplished.
This is why we must be capable of thinking dialectically!
And "Dialectical" Means...?
"Dialectical thinking" means to be capable and willing to understand and recognize the truth behind opposing viewpoints. Not only that, but it means that you are willing to find a solution that meets the needs of both opposing views. When people think dialectically, a healthy dialogue is able to occur where each side is examined and understood objectively, and it actually leads to consistently functional, healthy results!
The consequences of not thinking dialectically are worse than simply not accomplishing things, however...
Why It Matters
The psychological term for the way someone processes information when they are not able or willing to think dialectically is confirmation bias. This refers to mankind's natural tendency to filter out information they are exposed to through a process that weeds out/ignores facts, evidence and ideas that may be at odds with their own, and to emphasize information that supports their own viewpoints. If we are not aware of and put effort into avoiding these tendencies, we are no longer capable of seeing the objective world around us, instead inhabiting a self-supportive fantasy world where everything works the way we want it to work. When confirmation bias rules our perception, instead of arguing opposing views in order to reach a workable well-rounded compromise, arguing opposing views becomes an exercise in futility and an act of aggression.
This will in turn push people apart and create a feeling of otherness, lending towards dehumanizing the "others," and as any student of history may tell you, these are the first steps which have been taken towards any meaningless conflict in history!
We are entering an age of unparalleled facilitation of communication, and like any technological revolution, it brings with it a higher level of opportunity for amazing advances, as well as much more painful consequences for failure. With the click of a mouse (or tap on my phone) I can be exposed to an astoundingly wide variety of ideas, and then (with a considerable amount of dedicated effort) use an understanding of those in figuring out what the best solution for any problem might be. In contrast, much more easily, I can learn about these other ways of thinking just enough to decide that I disagree with them and strengthen my own convictions that my worldview is absolutely right, and maybe even that I should do whatever is in my power to get others to conform to it.
If we are not capable of interpreting and understanding information and ideas objectively, then we will feel constantly threatened by alternative ideas. Instead of advancing and progressing, we will remain stuck or even regress. Instead, let's emulate the examples of our founding fathers; when they worked on the Constitution together they debated endlessly and passionately on topics which they held of the utmost importance such as federalism, limits of government, and the design of checks & balances. Yet in the end, even though many of heir opinions were directly in opposition, they were willing to give value and credence enough to their peer's concerns to recognize that they were valid, and thus they penned one document which was adequate enough at compromising between all parties that it was signed into law and has served as the backbone of this country ever since.
Critical thinking is difficult and takes a lot of attention and effort, but I believe that the progress we are capable of making both as individuals and as a society at large will be well worth the sacrifice!