“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Aristotle
I wonder if Aristotle passed the above teaching onto his student Alexander the Great? Did this contribute to his fame? But do the societies of this worldly generation have the elasticity of thought that Aristotle encouraged? Unfortunately, it seems that more and more we don’t easily entertain views contrary to our own beliefs. We ignore the substance of contrary positions preferring instead to personalize the disagreement. I describe this cultural trend in my book, Humanity at Work: Encouraging Spirit, Achievement and Truth to Flourish in the Workplace (Chapel Hill Press 2008),
“Over the course of the last thirty years, I have seen an unmistakable change in deportment in one important respect: an increase in conduct I term “gratuitous incivility.” “Gratuitous” because it serves no real purpose in the exchange—the uncivil person is not in danger of physical attack, so the behavior simply lacks rational motive or purpose. It is often hyper-defensive and over-the-top. This kind of behavior may show itself in every interaction from the most minor conflict to the most important business negotiation. But contemporary politics most clearly illuminates what I mean. When two or more candidates “debate,” they often make no attempt to draw a distinction on substantive matters or the fundamental issues that separate them, preferring instead to engage in personal attacks on their opponents’ character!”
Think about it, when someone substantively disagrees with your position, their opinion is absorbed as simply that, another person’s views. But if your position puts you on the receiving end of a broadside as to all manner of your character, such as your intelligence, upbringing, morality… predictably you take the response personally! It reminds me of a scene from a gangster movies when some low life is about to kill another of his kind but first asks for a dispensation from guilt; “it’s nothing personal” they explain, “it’s only business.” Could you conjure up anything more personal than having someone ask for your understanding as they plan your immediate demise? It’s always a matter of perspective isn’t it? When I was a kid we often played near a pond. One day some of the kids spotted a frog on a lily pad. They started throwing rocks at the creature. The kids thought it was just fun, but to the frog it was a deadly business. Very personal indeed!
Emerson wrote, “ A chief event in life is the day in which we encountered a mind that startled us.” Notice he didn’t say a mind that produces ideas that resonate with our own. Remember, if you a startled by the texture of someone’s intellect, great; but if you are startled because they don’t agree with your position, a problem is brewing. Think about it.