22 April 2007

Making Room for Understanding

I like to read books that take time to read, or rather, books which take time between readings to think about. I’m currently about half way through Voltaire’s Bastards by John Ralston Saul, and it’s one of those books which I try to take in chunks of 20-30 pages at a time. I like to take the time to think about what I’ve read and process it. It’s a rather dense book.

But I almost didn’t get past the first 20 pages of the book. As I read the opening portion, I found many of my “matter-of-fact” opinions and personal experiences questioned. I almost left the book right there on the table in the bookstore (even though I had already paid for it). But then I stopped – just for a second – and asked myself if I was getting worked up about the content of the book or because my own opinions were being challenged. I also wondered that if it were the latter, then perhaps I was holding my opinions a little too dearly.

So, I’ve kept reading. Granted, I’ve taken my time reading this book, but that’s been done for a reason. The author uses military structures, practices and people (US and as well as other Western countries) to make his points, and as I have some fair experience in the military, it has been somewhat difficult to remain objective. So I’ve taken time to wrap my head around the ideas presented and balance them objectively against my experience, opinions and beliefs. It hasn’t been an easy slog, and at some points it has been personally, mentally uncomfortable. But I believe that I’ll come out of this book with a better understanding of a wide range of things – and probably a better frame for my opinions and beliefs about things I’ve perhaps held too tightly.

My point in this story is this: many it is necessary to be challenged on what we believe, to take in a differing point of view, in order to reach a deeper level of understanding. It is also a good thing to challenge ourselves and others with opposing, reasoned arguments. Truly respectful people can do this and, in doing so, learn to live together without surrendering their beliefs. People who understand each other tend to not hate each other. This, obviously, is not to say that all opinions are of equal merit; indeed some opinions are simply nonsensical (and are mostly pushed as “fact”). But, that’s another topic for another time.

When faced with a clearly thought out point of view which differs from my own, I hope that I can listen to it, consider it, judge it, and take from it what I can without torpedoing it with my own opinions, especially when I’m holding them too dearly.

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