Sunday, March 13, 2016

Dialectical Thinking - Modern Literacy (Rev 2)

A Bit About Me!

First I want to relate why the concept of dialectical thinking is personally relevant to me. As both a Mormon and an intersectional Feminist, I tend to get into a lot of deep discussions on a wide variety of issues. The people I am discussing with usually have some very incorrect preconceptions about what I believe, which manifest quickly in conversation. Now, I don't see this as a problem, but an opportunity for us to get to understand each other better! However, all too often I find that as I try to respectfully explore and clear up misconceptions that we both might have, my peer is rarely interested in hearing it; rather, they stick to their beliefs like a sailor to the last remnants of a sinking ship, and seem interested only in proving themselves correct.

Image from here.

Does this situation sound familiar at all to you? My guess is that it does...

Learning =/= Losing!

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 people 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 would tend to judge this interaction and say that Person A "won" this argument. This mindset, however, betrays the belief 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 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.

Image from here.

Dialectical Thinking And Government

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 commitee) stated his belief that this gridlock is because the constitution was designed to encourage compromise between various ideas and groups, so when our legislators are polarized and unwilling to think/act dialectically, the lack of compromise and cooperation across the "aisle" means that nothing gets accomplished.

Image from here.

This is why we need to be capable of thinking dialectically!

And "Dialectical" Means...?

"Dialectical thinking" means to be able 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 able to occur where each side is examined and understood objectively, and it actually leads to results!

Image from here.

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.

Image from here.

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!

Explosion of Communication

Image from here.

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.

Importance Of Literacy

Image from here.

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 governmant, and the designof 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.

Image from here.

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!


  1. Very good! I enjoyed the flow, structure, and content. Small spelling error in the last paragraph not sure if you meant to type heir or their. You know me Jason, I am a lot like my father. I am stubborn in my ways. (Which is not a bad thing.) But I am learning try to be more open, less judgmental, and trying to understand others viewpoints to find our common ground, and to make life better for all. I am honestly affairs that if I give in to even listening to others viewpoints I will loose who I am. I know that sounds silly, but I am grateful for yours and my sisters courage and sincere desire to help others. I hope that by you continuing to share your thoughts, beliefs, and opinions I myself will learn to be more open and understanding. Good Job!!

    1. Please excuse the spelling errors!! Apparently I can't spell late at night. I meant afraid not affairs. ☺️

  2. Great post! Engaging visuals, good content, very interesting. Is that a comic book picture from Captain America Civil War? More seriously, maybe I'm dumb, but I don't know what "intersectional Feminist" means. You might want to come up with a less technical term, or explain that somehow, because I felt like that could be a great point for you to gain a good personal angle on it, but it's blunted if the reader doesn't know what it means.

  3. That was a fascinating article. I liked the layout and how well you personalized it with the visual aides.
    I agree wholeheartedly with what you said about how discussions so often become a contest or battle rather than a means to self expression or productive understanding.
    I mostly agree with the argument that our ideas are not us, and I believe that it is healthy for someone to be open to learn, adapt and change most of their preconceptions, but I do believe that there are exceptions.
    There are ideas which I hold that are so core to how I live my life that to give them up would mean to become someone else. I am defined by my faith, my search for excellence and my love of life, and those are fundamental, healthy preconceptions that I would willingly defend to the death. In our search for understanding, we must recognize that people's core ideas do make up who they are.
    Your example of the founders goes to show this fact. They did leave one discussion alone (that of slavery) because they realized that it was a case where verbal rhetoric could not bring synthesis; each side's ideas defined who they were, and the search for synthesis of diametrically opposed core principles is what eventually lead to the civil war.
    In that paragraph about the constitution, you wrote "designof" instead of "design of."
    Well done! (:

  4. I have to start by agreeing with Spencer - I had no idea what intersectional Feminism meant and had to look it up. I know that this is for college but if your audience is the normal average Joe, don't get too technical or make assumptions that we are familiar with specific terminology that isn't regularly used. Glad you defined dialectical and confirmation bias for us! :) I also do not understand what you mean in the heading Learning =/= Losing. What is the "=/= "? Do you just mean =? Aside from those particulars I have to second what Jordan wrote. It was what I was thinking about last night when I read this the first time and wanted some time to ponder. I feel personally that the need to listen openly, try to understand situations from all sides and come to a equitable solution is wonderful but not when it comes to my core values being compromised. Some things simply cannot be compromised on however a new and deeper level of understanding of someone else's beliefs are so important! I find that I often do not use dialectical thinking when I get too emotionally involved with things I feel passionately about. The saying "never discuss politics or religion" came about for this very reason, and that is why missionaries are counselled not to Bible Bash. If we could put this way of thinking into place we could all discuss things rationally and effectively. Another reason I do not do this at times is because I am not good at 'proving' what I believe. I cannot quote facts and sources and sometimes even logically explain why I believe what I believe. And so when someone wants to 'debate' a position with me, I feel stupid and unable to communicate effectively. And so I avoid it (which is why this kind of posting is hard for me - I know what I want to say but have a hard time putting it in words). Anyway, I really appreciated reading this article and it is helping to remind me to listen more closely to others and to try to understand where they are coming from. I thought you graphics were great and it was clear and concise and even *gasp* enjoyable to read. :)

  5. Very well written article. I'm happy you are "blogging" and I think you should continue writing. Very thoughtful points. I agree with Lisa regarding core principles. And I also agree that we need to be better listeners. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. I find that as I work with others, much of the time what they really crave most of all is someone who will listen to them. I don't have to agree with them. But by truly listening to them and trying to understand their heart, it validates them as an equal and as a human being. If we could just learn that one principle as we relate to each other, I believe it would go a long way toward bridging gaps between each other. It takes a lot of humility to accomplish this. I also believe there is a lot to learn from each other, especially those who are not like us and who think differently. If I'm in a room with a bunch of people who think just like me, then we run the risk of "group think" where we might be completely convinced of something which may end up not being right. But finally, when all is said and done, it is our faith and our relationship with God that brings us together in unity. If we all strive to be unified with God, then we will automatically become unified with each other in the process. He becomes the central location to which we all will converge.