• Posted: Jun 03, 2012 14:55:25
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A guy came up to me this week and asked me to move my vehicle, except he didn't use those words. What he said was, "You gotta move." I had not intended to obstruct anyone. In fact, I'd purposely parked where I was in order not to be in anyone's way. And so I asked him, "Where would you like me to move to? What is it you're trying to do?" His answer again was, "You gotta move." I said, "Look guy, use the English language and explain to me what you're trying to do and I'll be happy to cooperate." To which he said: "You gotta move." The possibilities before me were limited. Move one way and I'd be in someone else's way. Move another way, same thing. I couldn't just disappear. So I said to him, "You know, I'm waiting for someone. I'll move when we're done." You can probably imagine the guy's tirade after that. But some time later, a friend of his came up to me and he asked me to move. I told him I'd be happy to if only he'd explain what they were trying to do and where he'd like me to move to. And so, he did. No problem. And, I moved. No problem.
Now, the interesting thing about that story is that it is typical of the kind of thinking that has begun to permeate the American social landscape. It's like one section of the voting populace is stuck in a concrete operational mode of thinking while another section of the populace enjoys the ability to think abstractly or in formal operational mode. (Such terms and distinctions were first popularized by developmental psychologist Jean Piaget who studied the way thinking develops in children. Subsequent research and theorizing has tried to understand how social environment can encourage or stifle the healthy unfolding of intellectual potential.) The current problem for our society is that the social environment our children are raised within is so intellectually uneven that the resulting adult population has become bifurcated in the extreme, with institutions that support the two branches often helping to propagate a culture of mistrust between the two groups by stereotyping "the other" and oversimplifying or overcomplicating problems we face together as a society. How to get the two sides working together as a team is the major political challenge of our time.
What good teachers and communicators do to help bridge that intellectual divide is start where their students, readers, and listeners are, then lead them to new understandings using things they already understand. For instance, this is a fruit. You know what a fruit is, but this is a fruit too. It is different, but it is also the same. Now, how is it different? How might those differences have come about and what do you think those differences mean to the fruit? And, what might those differences mean to us if we eat it? The teacher/communicator starts concretely. Then edges toward the abstract. Then returns to the concrete. The more that back and forth happens, the easier it is for his or her students, readers, listeners to follow and appreciate the journey. And soon, some students, readers, and listeners find themselves taking such journeys on their own. They become self-learners and self-problem solvers. They become more fluidly organic in their ability to adapt to and appreciate nuance, less rigidly mechanical in their thinking regarding options and alternatives, less desperate to preserve what they already know and understand in the face of unavoidable change. And, they become more adept at presenting themselves to others and more understanding and appreciative of what's needed to elicit cooperation from others.
While literature and Hollywood present us with numerous models of organically adaptive thinking and behavior, much of the currently popular news media, including talk radio, many of our churches, and almost all of our work environments discourage us from thinking adaptively, but instead shepherd us into rigidly constructed rooms of obedience to rules, regulations, imperatives, and unverifiable assertions justified by dubious self-serving logic. We do have an overall political system that allows for fluidly adaptive thinking and problem solving. But unfortunately, it is currently being manned by an increasingly powerful force whose primary agenda is to stifle and cripple socially responsible action while unfettering self-interested exploitation. Those same forces are playing into and exploiting for their own gain those voters amongst us who are least equipped to see through and challenge the falsifications of facts and distortions of logic by which they argue their points of view.
We can do better. We need do better. We must do better. Please help.
Tuesday, May 29th, 2012