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I am passionate about few things, but seeking truth is worthy of my passion. Sadly, though, truth-seeking discussion is out of vogue, because political correctness rejects controversy.
As a result, many of us have become so timid in our conversations with one another that we tend to meter and measure our actual opinions for fear of ruffling anyone’s feathers. I find this most disturbing. It means that views not in harmony with commonly-accepted sentiments must be suppressed lest they lead to any sort of disagreement – and our societies all need civil, respectful disagreement.
Why? Because a disagreement is not necessarily a negative. For fear of giving even the slightest offense, we have repressed and even silenced dissenting views, and that itself is harmful, since those views can often lead us to the truth, as the Baha’i teachings point out. In his writings Abdu’l-Baha gave this advice about true consultation to the members of democratically-elected Baha’i Local Spiritual Assemblies:
The members thereof must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should anyone oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions.
If we’re actually seeking to find the truth in our discussions, arguments, and interactions, we simply have to hear opinions that differ from our own thoughts and ideas.
Are we not mature enough to listen and consider opposing views dispassionately with a view towards learning and understanding how others see things? Must an argument be viewed as undesirable instead of as an opportunity to hear another point of view? Does it threaten my ability to hold my own beliefs if I listen to new, foreign, or unorthodox views? If other intelligent human beings hold strong beliefs, will my existence be subverted by listening to them?
I think not.
History has multiple examples of technical, scientific, and philosophical ideas now superseded – but as we know, the transitions are often rocky.
When will we reach a level of maturity whereby we can be so open that our lives are not endangered by allowing frank discussion of opposing views?
In these kinds of frank and even hard discussions, if evidence is given and if (a very big if) personalities are not attacked in the process, then we stand a chance of evaluating the facts with logic and reason. Of course, courtesy and respect are essential and indispensable in all conversations, and must never be abandoned. Without that respect for another person’s views, the threat from an argument with valid evidence that contravenes one’s own views runs the risk of devolving into knee-jerk emotional responses, with personal attacks following as civil conversation rapidly deteriorates.
We human beings must evolve beyond our warlike past by adopting a more pacific discipline. In our exchange of views, we need to avoid any descent into personal attacks, especially when our positions are challenged by reasonable and relevant facts.
New knowledge always threatens our current way of thinking, and the specter of change always looms. Embracing change as inevitable must become an essential part of every person’s humble approach to wisdom. We need to embrace new knowledge, even as it forces us to change. After all, hope is the symbol of positive change. Change need not be viewed as a negative, even though change will always be disruptive.
Siddhartha, at the end of his long life journey as the Buddha, finally learned to stop resisting and to flow with the river. This does not imply an abandonment of our morals and basic values. Instead, it increases our responsibility to be responsive to the elements and forces that act upon us. In adapting to change and new ideas, we do not abandon our focus or direction, and we still follow the course that lies ahead of us. How we respond to life’s conditions is our choice, but accepting change – which is an ever-present fact of existence – will make our lives much less troubled and traumatic.
In Star Trek terms, resistance is futile.
… people meet together to seek for truth, they must begin by cutting themselves free from all their own special conditions and renouncing all preconceived ideas. In order to find truth we must give up our prejudices, our own small trivial notions; an open receptive mind is essential. If our chalice is full of self, there is no room in it for the water of life. The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth, for truth is one.