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Can You Hold Ideas in Tension?


6or9They had not room in their minds for two ideas. ~Willa Cather

Society seems to be moving in an increasingly polarized direction. Evidence? The US elections were an exercise in vilification rather than a reasoned debate on issues affecting the well-being of the human race. Evidence? The Black Lives Matter movement. People can not wrap their heads around the idea that saying black lives matter does not mean other lives do not matter. Just as saying one woman is beautiful does not mean all other women are not beautiful. A people that have been marginalized in American society for four hundred years want it known that their lives do indeed matter, too.

We are building a wall preventing human connection because people are devolving deeper into black and white thinking becoming increasingly ignorant to the shades of gray in the spectrum let alone to the infinite colors beyond the understanding of monochrome. We set up lines of demarcation then focus on win or lose instead of cooperation, focus on live or die instead of coexistence, a focus on right or wrong instead of simply different, focus on mine and not mine instead of ours. The higher we build the wall the more insular we become the easier it is to see those with different viewpoints as demonic.

Why this focus on us and them instead of we? Why can’t we sustain any criticism of our side where the slightest hint of disagreement finds us setting a flamethrower upon the messenger? When did exposure to new ideas become reason for ridicule?

We have lost the ability as a collective, as a people to entertain two disparate ideas in our minds, to think both locally and globally, to think me balanced in equal measures with we. These are complex concepts requiring higher order thinking ability. Many of us refuse to put in the effort higher order thinking requires. I understand there are only so many hours to sift through the massive amounts of data being produced every day. Still, anything worthwhile, such as being informed on the issues during the political season, requires some effort on our part.

Rather than doing the hard work of investigating issues from multiple perspectives, people succumb to confirmation bias and seek only those data sources bolstering their position. Fake news is popular for this very reason. For every well-balanced article from a reputable news source, there are a 1/2 dozen rags spewing toilet waste into mind sewers lapping it up as nutritious food not realizing it’s poisoning them, poisoning society. It’s as though they retreat into impenetrable turtle shells constructed of their own biases protecting them from any new ideas.

Confirmation bias is popular because it’s easy. It’s much simpler to listen to sensationalized US Uncut or clickbait Breitbart to confirm our already held beliefs than it is to dig into the stories to understand the source of their claims and uncover any holes in their logic. It’s much easier to abdicate personal responsibility and vote with my political affiliation than to stand courageously with the other side when our party swaddles itself in hypocrisy. It’s much easier to be told what to think than to read deep and wide.

Immersing ourselves in affirming data sources does not require the complex brain power necessary to hold disparate ideas in tension. Holding conflicting ideas in tension requires a willingness keep one’s mind open, to not deify my candidate while vilifying yours. It takes strength of intellect to suspend judgment until both positions are vetted. It takes courageous thought to seek both the positive and the negative contained in each position. It requires having the integrity required to admit the beliefs we hold sacred, the gospel on which we preach, may be riddled with falsehoods, in danger of collapse. It takes focused intelligence to discern if ideas are right or wrong or simply different ways of approaching the same problem.

I have been criticized for reading Al Jazeera, a news source I find is generally well balanced albeit from a non-US centric perspective, by someone who won’t read any news source based in an Islamic country or any news source slightly critical of the US. I balance the news I get in the US with sources from the Mideast, Asia, Europe, and other countries to combat my own tendency toward bias confirmation. It is intellectually healthy to understand, not agree with but at least understand, multiple perspectives.

When faced with a polarizing issue I like to seek out news sources with which I am likely to agree and others whose premises I mostly disagree. I read both, vet the ideas against each other, come to my own conclusion generally somewhere between the two extremes. I may be wrong but, at least, I viewed the idea 360. I much prefer to build my own house on my investigations than trust the potentially termite ridden views of another.

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