Change Your Mind

When I was very young and was grappling with the nuances of the language, I used the word "loathe" to express my "dislike" of something.  I'm pretty sure I didn't use it to describe my feelings for my siblings, but my memory isn't that good.  My mother, who I think I got the writing gene from, explained to me the difference between "loathe" and "don't like", and with that, I understood the subtleties of one more word in our language.

In this spirit, I'm trying to be helpful.  When you express your disagreement with a fellow human being, it is not the same as saying you don't like Brussels sprouts.  The growers of Brussels sprouts may not agree with me, but Brussels sprouts don't have feelings, or at least none that we are aware of yet.  They don't have children that look up to them.  They don't have colleagues and friends with whom they have to maintain some mutual relationships with.  So saying you "hate" Brussels sprouts doesn't have immediate impact.  Expressing your opinion of the worthlessness of Brussels sprouts, unless you are the President of the United States, doesn't create a change in the popularity of them.

When speaking of others, when you say that someone is different than you, that is an observation of fact in many cases.  When you say they are stupid or backwards or simply wrong, you are basing that observation on your own perspective, and while you may feel strongly about that emotion, you also may very well be wrong.  And then who is the stupid one?

The debates we entertain in society these days don't seem to be anything other than shouting matches for the intolerant.  There is a lot of merit to the understanding that in a lot of cases, when one opens their mouth, very often they expose their ignorance.  As these arguments are hashed out not over reasoned discussion but inflammatory sound bites, one must really look at the way we choose to talk to one another and the damage it is doing to us all as a society.

I think it is very important to hear the thoughts of others.  This would be great if those thoughts were framed in the context that they are your thoughts and you are interested in trying to educate others.  A statement that you understand that and you are interested in hearing alternate viewpoints is valuable when you are engaging others.  But unfortunately, where the discussion is left open and unfettered, where people fail to remain on point, they use not only poor reasoning, but in some cases, slanderous, unfounded, and utterly ignorant rhetoric.  While this may be acceptable to some, and maybe even in a perverse sort of way, to them, amusing (a la Jackass, where we watch individuals making stupid decisions and laugh at the consequences) in my observation it is simply permitting the type of attitude that evolves toward less than desirable outcomes.

There is nothing healthy about poking at something with a stick to see what it will do.  I'd bet the Romans probably wished they hadn't been lording their power over the world when the barbarians finally figured out how to cross the Rhine. If you are sitting around, smug in your belief that you are in a position of power, or righteousness, or whatever ego-inflating situation you happen to see yourself in, think again.  Conditions change, other vantage points become apparent, and additional factors come into play.  Just because you think yourself right today, tomorrow can bring an entirely new way of thought.

Today I went out in my kayak to clear my head and to get ready for the upcoming week, a meditation of sorts.  I am by myself, I am paying attention to everything going on around me, and I don't have the backscatter going on that distracts me from one task or another.  In these cases, I am constantly listening.  I relax and listen to what is going on around me.  It is something I began to develop more in watching some of the people I respect greatly, in that they listen and take in what is being said, and then reflect it back, with maybe their ideas on the subject.  But they aren't talking, they are listening.  They aren't judging, they aren't criticizing, they aren't telling you how to do something, or why they are right.  They listen, they relate, and they suggest.

Instead of telling people what you think, maybe you should take a moment and listen to others.  While doing so might educate you on these points of view, I would bet that you will also find yourself in a position where people are willing to look toward you as a voice of reason and enlightened when that kind of viewpoint is most valuable.

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Battalion Chief with Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire and Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.

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