, Salem, MA


March 25, 2014

Watson: There are ways to see more


But, to our credit, she says, we have formidable powers of reason, sanity, judgment and civilization to employ against the temptations of arrogance, myopia and, even, fanaticism. We have the ability to be detached and objective, to observe ourselves from other viewpoints and to criticize ourselves.

Lessing says that we live in an age filled with influences — sometimes commercial, sometimes political — that encourage the primacy of our emotions. There are other forces — equally unhelpful — that encourage us to embrace dogma, certainty, black-and-white thinking, and us-versus-them postures in circumstances where those reactions are inappropriate. She advises us to be vigilant about government, big business, technology, media, advertising and illusions of any sort.

She isn’t telling us to not have opinions. (In fact, anybody self-aware enough to be concerned about the limits of his own vision is quite likely to be also attentive to events and ideas.) But she is recommending that we believe them provisionally and gracefully with an awareness that additional experience will almost inevitably cause us to adjust them. She cautions against self-righteousness and over-simplification.

Our ideas should not be precisely the same thing as our identity or we will be overly defensive and far less able to change our mind.

There are practical tests to examine the way we believe. Can we criticize our own positions? Can we find merits in philosophies or policies we don’t support? Can we list the pros and cons of important arguments? Can we walk in another’s shoes? Do we respect those we disagree with? Do we comprehend them?

Do we accept that our pasts and our experiences often play a huge role in determining our perspectives? Can we hold two (or more) contradictory ideas — maybe even truths — in our mind at the same time? Can we accept uncertainty?

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