First Do No Harm

Assertion v Aggression

It has been said that the best way to start an argument on Twitter is to tweet something.

Look up the word "argument" in a dictionary and the first definition you'll find has to do with: a quarrel or an altercation. Obviously, in this day and age, that's how arguments go. They are no longer "a process of deductive or inductive reasoning that purports to show its conclusion to be true" or "a sequence of statements, one of which is the conclusion and the remainder the premises" but rather a reason to get downright nasty and hurl insults at another human being.

Personally, I love a good argument in the classical sense: a discussion in which reasons are put forward in support of and against a proposition, proposal, or case. Having attended many a panel discussion, I've never walked away without having gained something insightful; without having learned something.

Now take, for instance, a Facebook friend who posts a pretty picture with beautiful printing that spells out something like: "When you quit learning, you quit living." Then go to that person's timeline and locate a place where someone disagrees with that person. Does the battle turn bitter? passive aggressive? or just outright name calling?

Disagreements do not have to be disagreeable. But if you post that learning is living, implying that you are open-minded and yet you hate being wrong and will fight off anyone who disagrees with you, then you are a liar.

Having taken up journalism for some twenty years, I know something about being wrong. Journalism is more than reporting. It's researching, re-researching, and then reporting on that research. The overall objective is all about uncovering the truth. And since we are humans, sometimes no matter how comprehensive and meticulous our research is, we still make mistakes.

As a journalist, I don't relish being wrong, but I do relish learning something; and that being the case, I always print a retraction and pass that learning on to my readers. You see, the only thing I don't like about being wrong is that I had worked so hard to be wrong. You'd think that hard work would make you right, but that's the chance you take when you start investigating subjects new to you, and the chance you take when you sum up your experience into an article that is read by anyone who stumbles across it. To be a good journalist, you have to work hard. To be a great journalist, you have to be open to being wrong. If you find out you are wrong and neither learn from it nor make corrections, you're a hack.

In my business: You never have the right to be right unless you can admit you were wrong.

But why is it that, in this world, if we find something to be wrong, why canít we just offer someone a correction and have that person take that correction to heart and thank us? Why can't the average person take a bit of criticism? Why can't you challenge a person's belief system without suffering an embittered and hostile response?

There are people who spend way too much energy proving themselves right while proving others wrong. I refuse to deal with these people because their sense of being is a castle built in the clouds. They are nothing beyond an overblown sense of self, derived out of derision.

There are those individuals who, if you engage them in a bit of argumentation, will very quickly take everything personally. We all know them. We have, at times, been them.

Let me start with this: Cartesian thought begins with "Cogito ergo sum" or "I think, therefore I am."

If we take it one step further, we can conclude that "I am the thinker," and one baby step further, "I am my thoughts."

Thus any attack on my thoughts is an attack on me.

Now let's jump ahead a couple of centuries and we find John Paul Sartre who said (I'm paraphrasing), "Wait a minute. I am not my thoughts. I am aware of my thoughts just as I am not that chair over there, but I am aware of that chair."

Thus Sartre concluded: "I think. I am 'aware' that I think. Therefore I am."

This is truly a quantum leap, if you think about it, for not only are we not our thoughts; we are not the thinker. We are the person "doing" the thinking. We are the person aware of the thinking.

This is truly an awakening for some, while ignored by most. Far too many people are heavily invested in their thoughts, their beliefs. An attack, no matter how slight or harmless, on those beliefs is taken as a personal attack by the person invested in those beliefs.

When we "awaken," we realize we are not our beliefs, but rather we possess those beliefs. We are not just the thinker of those thoughts; we are the person "doing" the thinking, and ultimately, these thoughts can change, given new data.

Attachment v Detachment

Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that triggers a protective state when we believe our thoughts have to be protected from others. One who is attached to a belief system who comes up against arguments contrary to that belief system experiences a rush of "fight or flight" chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, normally associated with survival. In this defensive state, the primitive part of the brain interferes with rational thinking and the limbic system knocks out most of the working memory, physically causing narrow-mindedness.

No matter how innocent or valuable an idea is, the brain has trouble processing it in this defensive state; those ideas otherwise would be thought of as helpful, were that person in a more rational state.

To someone detached from a belief system, new information is accepted readily and contrary information is processed rationally.

It is this detachment that the philosophers speak of, because it opens up channels to higher creativity, allowing the individual to experience the ever-present and eternal now.

The first step in achieving detachment is first to realize your attachment. The moment you realize you are attached is the moment you start to sever that attachment.

Next time you read, hear, or see something that starts to set you off, feel it. Feel its intensity. It's a bodily feeling, not some sort of separate emotional feeling. You can feel it up and down your spine, affecting nerves throughout your body.

The next step is to use your imagination.

Let's say you're at your computer and you find a comment to one of your posts that lights you up.

First admit to yourself that the comment has affected you. Feel it.

Then sit back, stare at the comment, and picture it coming at your body. But your body is transparent. You watch it go right through you and beyond, dissipating into the universe.

You will actually feel your bodily response fade, fade, fade away.

Then, and only then, will you be able to respond to the comment clearly, cogently, and concisely.

Unless, of course, you just want to be a troll and start flaming away. Then have at it.

It always boils down to your own choice.


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