Discussions excite me. Especially philosophical ones. Also, when it involves a topic that I’m interested in and have knowledge about or topics that I have no knowledge about but interest me in the same way. If I know a lot about a topic, of course I will respond to an incorrect statement by providing an argument that refutes it. If I don’t know anything about a topic but I take an interest in it, I will keep on asking questions. That is how I show interest and this is how I learn. My objective to initiate discussions and probing questions is to learn and refine or rectify whatever past notion or knowledge that I have about an issue. However, to an observer, they will see me as an annoying argumentative little (because of my size) bitch who can’t keep her mouth shut and tone down whenever a discussion takes place. I understand where this is coming from. Not everyone is comfortable with conflict. However, I don’t see this as conflict. I do think that I’m energized by it because of the benefits that I will get at the end of the discussion. I can’t stand listening to people being confident about their statement when there are arguments that I have encountered may have offered and stated otherwise.
People whom have known me in my early 20s (friends from my days as an undergraduate particularly) wouldn’t believe that I would turn out to be the type who is assertive and outspoken when it comes to engaging in discussions. I used to be the passive type and wasn’t assertive enough to state my point or refute an argument. People whom I work with now would never believe that I was the unassertive and passive type. Yes, throughout the years, I’ve changed and I’m proud of it. I guess this change stems from my interest to learn about a variety of topics and disciplines as well as from my readings. Because I have the knowledge to synthesize and back up my statement, I’m not afraid to speak my mind. However, this does not mean that I don’t welcome refutations. I anticipate refutations more than I anticipate agreements. Of course, I will only accept the refutation when it’s an argument that I haven’t considered and have checked on its validity. When that happens, I will keep quiet and will take the personal time to do research that may backup or refute the claim.
How do I to refute a statement? To test whether a statement or a thesis is true, what one should do is, as Margaret Thatcher (Britain’s former Prime Minister) have mentioned in her book ‘The Path to Power’, ‘to look out for facts which may refute the theory and the fact that all tests of the theory are attempted falsifications of predictions derived with its help furnishes the clue to scientific method.’ This was how she approached any argument, whether it’s political or regarding the hard sciences. She worked as a chemist before she became Prime Minister in 1979 until 1990 and I think anybody who is in the hard sciences would have known about this basic principle when it comes to test a scientific hypothesis or experiment. I myself have emulated her approach. I think this approach has the same principle as The Socratic Method which is also an approach that I use in discussions. Both approaches are essential for critical thinking and for being aware of the logical fallacies that could appear in our thesis or argument.
How about the type of people that I deal with when it comes to engaging in discussions? The most important aspect of a person is I will see how he/she treats his ego and whether he/she exhibits humility as well as if he/she can be objective about it. Ego is a stumbling block for a quality discussion and learning to take place. If we want to progress in obtaining knowledge, we should never set an end point to it. I see learning as an infinite line of progression. If there is an end point, it will be caused by one’s own ego. Whether one knows a lot about a topic, it doesn’t mean you know everything. One can only know about MOST things, NOT EVERYTHING. We should see what the other person has to offer. From my experience, I’ve dealt with people who have humility and people who don’t. To give some examples, the one who has humility is known to be knowledgeable (he reads a lot) and opinionated. But when I discussed with him, it was an enlightening experience. He considered my point of view, and I considered his point of view. We’ve also both refuted each other’s statements. The intellectual bantering was fun. I think we both have set ‘learning’ as the objective whenever we engage in intellecual discussions. As for my experience with a person who has no humility, it was a stressful one. Well, coming from other people’s impression about him, he is the type that never considers other people’s opinions and some have told me that he has a huge ego. He is opinionated but doesn’t read. At first, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. I consider everyone to be worthy of intellectual discussions until proven otherwise. Well, this particular person had proved himself to be unworthy of it. I refuted him because of his claims, but he refuted me perhaps because what I said didn’t match his personal values. He wasn’t objective. Perhaps he was being subjective, but still, we still have to be objective when both decided to be subjective. What do I mean by this? Being subjective means we express the different views (whether they’re personal or impersonal) regarding a topic in relating to our experience and prior knowledge, while being objective about being subjective means to consider and acknowledge the differing views that both hold as valid due to it being formed from different experiences, observations, and readings. Because of his ego, he won’t let anyone refute his opinions. Again, perhaps this is because my arguments violated his values. Some topic of discussions shouldn’t include personal values as a component because it impedes objectivity, except when we are talking about well, personal values. From then on, I swore to myself to never waste my time with egoistic people who only want to prove that his opinions are always right. Although I did learn something ABOUT and FROM him when he expressed his views, our objectives weren’t mutual. What he did was to only impose his opinions on me when I’ve refuted his statement that I’ve known to be flawed based on my previous readings. I didn’t learn anything that could refine my previous notion regarding the topic that we discussed, except maybe that I’ve learned to choose carefully with who I have discussions with. So, humility, the will to learn, and being objective are the three prerequisites that I have set when it comes to choose who I have mental sparring with. Not only that I understand that not everyone is into mental sparring, I also understand that many would attach their self-worth and ego to an idea when it is being expressed…which is not ideal. Separate the who from the what, and see what is right, not who is right.
One of the areas that I still need to work on is my tone of voice. My workmate has commented that my voice gets louder when I engage in discussions. Perhaps this was because I get excited and this translates into my aggressiveness. This usually happens when in group settings. As an introvert (I’m an INTP), I don’t naturally do well in group discussions but I have tried to develop this part of me nonetheless. But it is also annoying when I try to speak, they tend to cut me off which is why the volume of my voice gets louder. I do well in a one to one setting. I think before I speak, so when I speak, it tends to be slow because I need it to be precise. Perhaps I need to seek an effective way to express my points and not get cut off.
People who don’t know of my purpose may see me as someone who is condescending because of the types of questions and arguments that I pose. Well, apart from reading, how does one learn when one doesn’t do so? I’m never certain of the things that I know are sure to be absolute and fixed.