Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I Believe in People

As promised, this post is inspired by a TED talk. Specifically, this talk about spoken word poetry. While my post is not intricately related to the talk as a whole, as a spoken word poet, the speaker is fairly enjoyable to listen to.

At one point the speaker asks the audience to list three things they know to be true. This is an exercise she uses with aspiring spoken word poets in order to help them find a story of their own to tell. However, as a side effect of my years of modern education and rationalism, I couldn't think of anything I would go so far as to say that I knew to be true. There are many things in which I believe, some more strongly than others, but there is no single fact that I can think of that is not contingent upon a whole surrounding frame of perspectives and beliefs.

This is not to disparage the project of education and contemplation of reality, which would hardly be in keeping with the message of my blog. I believe there is great value in uncertainty. Although I have beliefs, I think I gain from remaining receptive to finding some truth in new views that people share with me. It also enables me to argue with anyone about anything, a skill that has affected me throughout most of my life, for good or for ill.

Later that evening, as I read through a site condemning historical misdeeds committed by some Christian missionaries in order to make the point that Christian evangelism has not always been sunshine and roses, it occurred to me that a few days earlier I had been defending the author of a book analyzing the most effective way to evangelize to Muslims. Then it occurred to me why I argue against everyone, because when you decide that something must be true, then something must be false, and people who believe wrong things no longer have a new perspective to encounter, but an incorrect perspective to correct. Now, I may not know much of anything, but I certainly believe in people. Not simply that they exist, but that every person has a valuable perspective that is simultaneously amazingly similar to mine in structure and breathtakingly different than mine in particular.

So, if I ever get into a silly argument with you over some point or another, please do not think that it is because I believe that you are wrong, that could not be further from the case. Nor is it because I believe the side I am arguing is right, and I am not trying to change your mind either. I am not playing Devil's Advocate, I am playing People's Advocate, for I believe that there are people out there who truly do hold whatever view I am defending. I am not trying to change your mind, but to open it to the value that these people can bring to your mind. And finally, I would do the same for your position if it seemed necessary.


elfarmy17 said...

I like that this is labeled "respect." And I very much endorse/approve of your reasons for argument. It's fun to debate when you're both coming with such a mindset-- less so when there's correct and incorrect, and even less when it comes to morally-justified and morally-corrupt.

Kenny said...

Respect is one of my favorite tags ;)