Do we think and question often enough? Are we even taught how to do so? As a parent, how many times have I offered a response of “Because I said so” to a question asked by my daughter? As a student, how often has she heard “Because that’s how it’s done” from her teachers? Are we rewarded for thinking and questioning, or do we feel excluded when we don’t follow the herd?
Is an argument a good thing? Most would answer “no” to that question. I think that’s the root of the problem. An argument, according to classical thinking, is simply a conclusion supported by multiple premises (or evidence). An argument is NOT a knock-down, drag-out exchange between yelling, screaming, red-faced combatants – that’s a fight. Arguments, which come with biases and assumptions to be understood, are the basic construct of how we discuss our positions and try to convince others of our thoughts.
As we’ve grown and allowed ourselves to be molded by society, we’ve adopted the expectations and values put on us by society. We’ve had no choice. We’ve learned not to argue – because by questioning things we are put outside the norm. It’s easier not to argue, especially when an argument has become synonymous with a fight. By failing to argue and instead accepting the status quo and the things we are taught, we lose ourselves. My advice? Question everything.
Judge a man by his questions, rather than by his answers. – Voltaire
A quick anecdote to illustrate. My daughter is excellent at math, but hates it. I’m pretty good at it, and I love it – this drives her pretty nuts. She’s learning how to do proofs in geometry and algebra, and she asks a good question: “If I get the right answer, why do I have to write out how I got it?” I try to explain to her that the right answer is good, but understanding why it’s the right answer and knowing how you got there is the real prize. I tell her that by writing out the proofs, the teacher is forcing her to think – to take what she knows and apply that to new situations. Here, my daughter is being taught to think and question – and she has already developed an aversion to it.
There are five “big” questions which, according to Christopher DiCarlo, tell us a great deal about ourselves if we take the time to answer them truthfully:
- What can I know?
- What am I?
- Why am I here?
- How should I behave?
- What is to come of me?
I’ve answered these questions recently, and found that the process of answering them and the deep reflection that the answers demanded has caused me to rethink many of my beliefs. The answers have led me to more questions.
The biggest question I’ve come to, and I still struggle to answer, is “Why do I do this?” Do I, or you, do the things we do for others? Ourselves? Society? Because we’re happy doing them? Because they are our “responsibility”? Because no one else will? Are we altruistic? Are we greedy?
I know this much – I write these posts because they help me to think through my arguments. If you’re still with me despite the gaps in my writing, I appreciate you – and welcome your thoughts and, of course, arguments.