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Understanding and Respect

Monday plus Tuesday:  Students in my high school learned valuable “lessons for life” from one of our favorite teachers.  In a society-and-government class, he explained ideas clearly in lectures, and we also debated the pros & cons for different positions on a wide range of issues.  He participated, was a skilled debater, and Monday he would argue persuasively for one position.  But the next day (or later in the same class) he would criticize this position, and present strong arguments for the other position(s).

Understanding and Respect:  After awhile, after hearing the strongly presented pros & cons for different positions on many issues in Monday-plus-Tuesday debates, we learned that if we want accurate understanding we should get the best information and arguments that all position-views can claim as support.  When we did this, so we understood more accurately and thoroughly, we usually recognized that even when we have valid reasons for preferring one view, people with other views also may have good reasons, both logical and ethical, for their choices, and this helped us develop respectful attitudes.

 

Postmodern Relativism:  An understanding-based respect does not require agreement.  You can respect someone and their views, yet criticize their views, which you have logically evaluated based on evidence (asking “what evidence-and-logic supports each view?”) and values.  The intention of our teacher, and the conclusion of his students, was not a postmodern relativism.*  The goal was a rational evaluation of ideas during our search for truth, and for practical reality-based principles that can be used as a solid foundation (along with good values) for designing better life-strategies, for wise-and-effective thinking, decisions, and actions, as individuals & societies.

* In school and outside, we should aim for a logically appropriate humility with confidence that is not too little, not too much.     {postmodernists began with useful questions – asking “what evidence do you want to find?” and “how are you evaluating this evidence?” – that they pushed to foolish extremes, so we now see the rationality-and-idiocy of postmodern relativism}

also,  {logical reasoning in everyday life}  {empathy with kindness will improve understanding and respect}

 


Part 1 (optimistic) and Part 2 (pessimistic)

Part 1:  Originally, all I wrote about about "Understanding and Respect" was the first two paragraphs above.  Then I added "Postmodern Relativism" to clarify the goals of my teacher, and the result of his teaching for me, and probably most other students.  For decades I've been optimistic, thinking “it would be wonderful if more people could have this kind of experience.”

Part 2:  I always knew this kind of education would face tough challenges, that it would be difficult to do effectively, maybe difficult to do at all.  Then during 2020 I observed the continuing increase of political polarization and inaccurate understandings & disrespectful attitudes, so I began learning more about how “motivated reasoning” psychology leads to over-confidence by individuals and groups.  This learning-about-people has led me to become more pessimistic — for reasons described in the rest of this page — about the prospects for Monday-plus-Tuesday teaching, and improving our mutual understanding & respecting.

Before beginning Part 2, here is a “big picture” overview of the main ideas in Parts 1 & 2.


 

 

An Overview

Understanding and Respect:  If we want accurate understanding we should get the best information & arguments that all position-views can claim as support.  And recognize that even when we have valid reasons for preferring one view, people with other views also may have good reasons, both logical and ethical, for their choices, so we should have respectful attitudes.   {more}   {more}

 

Postmodern Relativism:  An understanding-based respect does not require agreement.  You can respect someone and their views, yet criticize their views, which you have logically evaluated based on evidence (asking “what evidence-and-logic supports each view?”) and values.  A worthy educational goal is a search for truth, and for practical reality-based principles that can be used as a solid foundation (along with good values) for designing better life-strategies, for wise-and-effective thinking, decisions, and actions, as individuals & societies.  Improved understanding should promote an appropriate humility, with a logically-justifiable appropriate confidence that is not too little, not too much.   {postmodernists began with useful questions, but they pushed their claims to foolish extremes, so we now see the idiocy of extreme postmodern relativism}   {more}

 
 

Hostile Polarization:  Currently a common tendency is hostile polarization, with some people (especially when they're in groups) promoting disrespectful attitudes toward people who disagree with their positions.  This tendency is affected by many factors, including principles and pressures.

Important Principles:  When an issue-position is considered extremely important, it's more difficult to think an opposing view can be supported by "good reasons, both logical and ethical."  In this context, an opponent may be viewed as an enemy who must be defeated in “us versus them” warfare.  But even though it's almost always wise to avoid "warfare" we shouldn't try to buy peace at the high cost of abandoning important principles.

Interpersonal Pressures:  To reduce disrespectful attitudes, accurate understanding is useful but isn't sufficient, because other factors also influence our thoughts & emotions, attitudes & actions.  Sometimes tribal attitudes develop when members of a group convince themselves that “we are smart, they are stupid” and “we are good, they are bad” so “they are a threat, are the enemy.”  This kind of thinking, with not enough understanding and too much overconfidence, can lead to un-critical groupthink and un-productive words & actions, online or in person.  Interpersonal social pressures occur when a person wants to be respected in a group that rewards a disrespectful attitude toward those who — due to their “stupid and bad” views on issues that are important for the group's insiders — are defined as outsiders.  Maybe disrespect can be reduced, IF more people encourage their groups to socially reward those (both inside & outside the group) who try to promote peace by communicating more enjoyably-and-productively when there are disagreements.

 

a rational personal strategy:  When a teacher tries to accurately-and-strongly describe different views {and the best arguments for defending each view} the result will be seen as non-accurate by some students (and parents & others) who feel strongly about an issue-view and want to make life unpleasant for the teacher.  Because of this, every teacher has a personally-rational reason to avoid controversy, and therefore to avoid a Monday-and-Tuesday kind of “thinking skills” activity. 

clever and kind:  My section about empathy in relationships (with empathy helping produce understanding-and-respect, and being produced by it) ends with an insight by Abraham Heschel, who said "when I was young, I admired clever people;  now that I am old, I admire kind people."  Maybe, despite the risk of controversy, some teachers will try to help students, while they are still young, appreciate the value of being truly clever (with skills in creative-and-critical productive thinking) and also kind.

enjoyable and productive:  Because respect does not require agreement, for important issues we should not be timid or mentally lazy by accepting a postmodernist claim that “you should not claim your position is better, you should claim only that you prefer it.”  We should try to search for knowledge that is true & useful, and for actions that help make life better for more people.  Disagreeing with others, and explaining why, should be socially acceptable.  But we can help make the process of disagreeing about some things (while agreeing about most things in life) more enjoyable and productive.

 

[[ iou - Tonight (Nov 30) I'll write something about online shaming – politically & personally, with callout culture and/or cyberbullying – as a new form of harmful disrespecting. ]]

 
 

appropriate confidence:  Improved understanding should promote an appropriate humility, with a logically-justifiable appropriate confidence that is not too little, not too much.

inappropriate over-confidence:  We often see people being over-confident about the logical justification for their own personal views, and the views of their in-groups.  Why does this happen?  and how?

 

over-confidence by groups:  One way to improve relationships & productivity is by developing cooperative teamwork.  But one strategy for developing strong relationships among insiders (within a team) — by promoting hostile “us against them” attitudes toward outsiders (not in the team) — can convert positive teamwork into negative tribalism.  When this happens, group dynamics can produce interpersonal pressures that overcome its members' empathy & kindness;  the results can be disrespectful attitudes and — if there isn't effective filtering that leads to wise decisions — unproductive disrespectful actions.  In many ways, the effects of groups is to amplify the psychological tendencies of its members, so most of this section is about the thinking-and-feeling of individuals.

 

over-confidence by individuals:  Why are so many so confident?  Because people (individually and in groups) have mixed motivations, combining logic and emotion;  logically we want to have accurate understanding;  and emotionally we want to have a positive self-image so we can feel good about ourselves (as individuals)* and (as individuals in groups) we want to get respect from others and have supportive allies, and (as individuals & as groups) we want to win arguments and have a positive group-image.

* self-image is improved when a person reduces the unpleasant cognitive dissonance (the dissonance of thoughts) that occurs when they recognize an inconsistency between their beliefs, or between their beliefs & actions.  They want to judge their system-of-beliefs {and their actions} as being internally consistent, and also being better than other beliefs they could choose. 

How?  When a person is motivated to reduce their cognitive dissonance, they can use motivated reasoning to increase their self-confidence in their beliefs & their decisions-and-actions.  A person's mixed motives — logically wanting to have accurate understanding, and emotionally wanting to improve their self-image, get respect, have allies, win arguments — can motivate them to change their use of evidence-and-logic.  They can feel more confident that their own views are correct (and opposing views are incorrect) when they...  use confirmation bias by accepting evidence that confirms (supports) their own view, and rejecting evidence that disconfirms their view or confirms opposing views;*   use gentle criticism for their own view, when logically evaluating its pros-and-cons, but use harsh criticism for other views;   shift the evaluative “burden of proof” so it favors their own view by asking “can I believe this?” for the view they want to accept, and “must I believe this?” for a view they want to reject;   use other ways-of-reasoning to persuade themself that their view is correct, is the best view.  And if necessary they can rationalize by thinking “my thoughts {and actions} are acceptable because      ” and filling the blank with self-protective rationalizations.

* re: confirmation bias, learning Monday-plus-Tuesday taught us that "if we WANT accurate understanding, we should get the best information and arguments that all position-views can claim as support."  But this "if" doesn't describe the way we often think, when instead we WANT to see only the evidence that support our own views (even if this isn't an accurate understanding of reality) so we say “I don't want to hear about Tuesday.”  By contrast, a person who wants accurate understanding is willing to change their views when it seems wise, after finding justifiable evidence-based reasons for a change, because they see the change as wisdom rather than weakness.

motivated reasoning occurs when people (quoting Wikipedia) "use emotionally-biased reasoning to produce justifications or make decisions that are most desired rather than those that accurately reflect the evidence, while still [even though their motivated justifications don't "accurately reflect the evidence"] reducing cognitive dissonance.  In other words, motivated reasoning is the tendency to find arguments in favor of conclusions we want to believe to be stronger than arguments for conclusions we do not want to believe."

Although a person's motivated reasoning can lead to a changing of views {or actions} in ways that improve internal consistency and reduce the person's cognitive dissonance, instead this reasoning usually leads to increasing confidence in their existing views {and actions}.

When a person becomes overconfident about their own views, they may treat opponents (i.e. people with other views) in harmfully disrespectful ways, and justify their behavior by thinking “my opponents are stupid-and-bad so they deserve the harmful treatment they're getting from me.”  This kind of behavior (and rationalizing) is encouraged by polarizing groups when the person's desire to be a contributing member of the group — and be respected by people in the group — motivates them to become active in “the battle of us-against-them,” and this desire overcomes their empathy & kindness.

 

soldier and scout:  Different goals for thinking lead to different ways of thinking.  When you're behaving like a soldier, your goal is to be an effective fighter;  for achieving this goal, it's useful to see things over-simplistically, to view yourself as a correct-thinking “good guy” and your opponent as a wrong-thinking “bad guy” who deserves to be the enemy you hate, and fight;  you don't want to acknowledge that "people with other views also may have good reasons, both logical and ethical, for their choices."  When you're behaving like a scout, your goal is to find truth, to accurately know the actual situation (re: numbers & locations of soldiers, their equipment, the terrain,...) so you want accurate observations-of-reality that will be a solid foundation for an effective planning of battle strategies.  Of course, nobody is purely soldier or purely scout.  Each of us combines some of both, with their relative strength depending on what's happening in our life-context, and how we're responding.  Each of us has mixed motives;  we want to have accurate understanding, but we also want to win arguments (inside ourselves & externally with others) and have supportive allies.  When our main goals are wins & allies, a common strategy is to get knowledge as a scout (to improve understanding) and then use knowledge as a soldier (to win arguments & gain allies);  unfortunately, when this happens and understanding is weaponized, often the result is increasing polarization & disrespect, instead of increasing mutual respect.

lawyer and judge:  Another useful metaphor-pair (similar in some ways to soldier & scout) is lawyer & judge.  Opposing lawyers each argue for their view with biased non-neutral rhetoric (analogous to soldiering) and then (as in scouting) a judge tries to be fair when determining which view is more accurate (in what ways) and/or more useful (in what ways), tries to do neutral judging, tries to avoid biased judging that is motivated by wanting to achieve personal benefits for themself.

 


 

Education to encourage Understanding and Respect

Teachers can encourage accurate understanding and respectful attitudes by designing argumentation activities that help students accurately understand the main views (for an issue) — by accurately describing each view, and the best arguments that can be used to defend it.  When this kind of activity is done well, students can improve their thinking skills, in their logical evaluating of arguments & counter-arguments, in their planning of persuasion strategies and their communication skills.

How?  In common language, an argument often involves hostile attitudes & words, and maybe even hostile actions.  But during argumentation in a classroom, students should reduce hostile attitudes that can lead to antagonistic words & angry confrontation.  More generally, a teacher can encourage students to be “peacemakers” who try to reduce hostility (in attitudes, words, actions) by themselves and by others, both inside the classroom and (especially) outside it.

How?  A simple informal activity — useful in all areas of everyday life, inside & outside the classroom — is to just listen to another person during a conversation, because it's an opportunity to better understand what they are thinking and feeling.

How?  One teaching method is that of my teacher, with HIM doing the expert analysis-and-debating Monday, and then Tuesday.  His method was time-effective for helping us quickly learn the pros & cons of differing views on a wide range of interesting life-relevant topics.  But methods with STUDENTS being “more active” will be more effective in helping students improve their own thinking skills.*  For example, one kind of argumentation activity would have expert analysis-and-debating done by students — either individually or (typically more time-practical) in cooperative teams — with students first arguing for one view, and then (after a period of preparation) arguing for the other view(s).   {an example}

* Most educators think the best way to improve thinking skills is with active practice, when students “actively think” during a challenging activity.   /   It also can be useful to explicitly define the educational goals, e.g. to say “you are learning the pros & cons of issue-positions, and how to think more effectively, and how to understand others & respect them” at appropriate times during activities.

How?  Unfortunately, concerned students (and parents & others) can "make life unpleasant for a teacher" so teachers "have a personally-rational reason to avoid controversy, and therefore to avoid a Monday-and-Tuesday kind of ‘thinking skills’ activity."  Maybe... when "expert analysis-and-debating is done by students" a teacher is less likely to be justifiably criticized for being personally biased.  But this might not be enough to avoid controversy.

 
 
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Part 2

 

Hostile Polarization:  By contrast with respectful attitudes, currently an unfortunately common tendency is hostile polarization, with some people (especially when they're in groups) promoting disrespectful attitudes toward people who disagree with their beloved positions.  This tendency is affected by many factors, including principles and pressures.

Important Principles:  Sometimes an issue-position is considered extremely important, which tends to decrease the probability that an opposing view will be considered supportable by "good reasons, both logical and ethical."  In this context, an opponent may be viewed as an enemy who must be defeated in “us versus them” warfare.  But even though it's almost always wise to avoid "warfare" we shouldn't try to buy peace at the high cost of abandoning important principles.  As explained above, "respect does not require agreement," and sometimes we should intensely pursue efforts to actualize "practical reality-based principles that can be used as a solid foundation (along with good values) for designing better life-strategies, for wise-and-effective thinking, decisions, and actions, as individuals & societies."

Interpersonal Pressures:  To reduce disrespectful attitudes, accurate understanding is useful but isn't sufficient, because other factors also influence our thoughts & emotions, attitudes & actions.  In extreme cases, especially in some politically-oriented groups (on both left & right), tribal attitudes develop when members of a group convince themselves that “we are smart, they are stupid” and “we are good, they are bad” and “they are a threat, are the enemy.”  This kind of thinking, with not enough understanding and too much oversimplifying & overconfidence, can lead to un-critical groupthink and un-productive words & actions, online or in person.  Interpersonal pressures occur when a person wants to be respected in a group where the social dynamics expect-and-reward a disrespectful attitude toward those who for any reason — including their “stupid and bad” views on issues that are important for the group's insiders — are defined as outsiders.  Unfortunately, disrespectful attitudes toward "outsiders" is a common human tendency, and extreme doesn't mean uncommon.  Attitudes have become increasingly polarized in the United States where instead of being united our citizens are now more divided, with less mutual respect.   But maybe disrespect can become less common IF more people encourage their groups to socially reward those (both inside & outside the group) who try to promote peace by communicating more enjoyably and productively when there are disagreements.

 

A Rational Strategy for Teachers – Avoid Controversy

When a teacher accurately describes each view {and the best arguments for defending it} — so all views {and defenses} are described accurately and strongly — it will not be perceived by everyone as being NEUTRAL.  This is due to both perception (because many people prefer a treatment-of-views that is biased in favor of their own view, and they consider a treatment to be neutral only if it's biased in the way they want) and reality (because it's impossible for a teacher to describe views in a way that is totally neutral).  But teachers can try to be FAIR by aiming for accurate descriptions, treating different perspectives with respect, and providing access to high-quality resources where skillful advocates for various views each describe their own views, explain their logical reasoning, and criticize other views.

Unfortunately, students (and parents & others) who feel strongly about an issue-view can make life extremely unpleasant for a teacher who tries to promote a lively discussion with accurate-and-strong descriptions of all issue-views.  Because of this, a teacher who wants to have an enjoyable life has a personally-rational reason to avoid controversy, and therefore to avoid this kind of “thinking skills” activity.  Sigh.   :<(     {and there are other reasons to avoid “thinking skills” instruction}     /     Our teacher knew this.  On the first day of class, and occasionally afterward, he would describe “ground rules” for productive discussions.  His first rule was “don't be a nut” who would be angered by discussions that included strong-and-accurate descriptions of views they didn't like.  This kind of anger was a cause for concern then in 1965, and is even more so now (especially in public schools) due to increases of hostile polarization in society.

 

clever and kind:  My section about empathy in relationships (with empathy helping produce understanding-and-respect, and being produced by it) ends with an insightful self-observation by Abraham Heschel — who wisely said "when I was young, I admired clever people;  now that I am old, I admire kind people" — and an educational application;  with skillful Monday-plus-Tuesday activities, "teachers can help students, while they are still young, appreciate the value of being truly clever (with skills in creative-and-critical productive thinking to solve problems, to make things better) and also kind."

productive communication:  Because respect does not require agreement, for important issues we (all of us, not just students) should not be timid or mentally lazy by accepting a foolish postmodern relativism claiming that “evidence-based confidence isn't possible” so “you should not claim your position is better, you should claim only that you prefer it.”  Disagreeing with others, and clearly explaining why, should be socially acceptable.  But we can help make the process of disagreeing about some things (while agreeing about most things in life) more enjoyable and productive.  I'm still hoping (although with less optimism than before) that we can use productive communication — in an effort to achieve understandings and mutual respect — in a search for knowledge that is true & useful, and for actions that help make life better.

 


 

appropriate confidence is also appropriate humility:  Improved understanding should promote an appropriate humility — with a logically-justifiable appropriate confidence that is not too little, not too much — instead of two errors-of-thinking described by Bertrand Russell:  "error is not only the absolute error of believing what is false, but also the quantitative error of believing more or less strongly than is warranted by the degree of credibility properly attaching to the proposition believed, in relation to the believer's knowledge."  Having appropriate humility — with logically-justified appropriate confidence, with belief that is not more strong than is warranted, and is not less strong than is warranted — will help a person avoid two of these three kinds of error.

 

inappropriate over-confidence:  Let's look at two kinds of overconfidence – postmodern and personal – that happen when...   • postmodernism is used to discredit the views of other people, and   • a person is overconfident about their own personal views.     { Both kinds of overconfidence are common in the politics of left & right, in supporters of both parties. }

    • Although we might look at postmodernist relativism and say “they're too humble, with not enough confidence,” it's more accurate (and more useful) to see postmodernists as being unjustifiably over-confident in their strong claim that “NOBODY can have confidence in their beliefs” or — when postmodern relativists want to use their claim as an offensive weapon, trying to weaken an opponent — that “YOU cannot have confidence in your beliefs.”     { The socio-political effects of postmodernism are complex;  it's difficult to understand-and-describe how individuals & groups are affected, so the rest of this section is mainly about personal overconfidence, not postmodern relativism. }
    • It's much more common to see people being over-confident about the logical justification for their own personal views, and the views of their in-groups.  Why does this happen?  and how?
 

over-confidence by individuals:  Why are so many so confident?  Because most of us become satisfied with the consistency and quality of our own beliefs-and-actions, after we've made adjustments in our beliefs & actions, and have done some rationalizing.  A useful way to understand this aspect of human thinking is cognitive dissonance:  when a person recognizes an inconsistency between two of their beliefs, or between their beliefs and actions, this recognition produces an unpleasant dissonance (it's a dissonance-of-thinking, a cognitive dissonance) within the person;  most people respond by trying to reduce the dissonance, by making adjustments (in their beliefs or actions) so they can see their personal system of beliefs-and-actions as being internally consistent.  And they want to persuade themselves that their system of beliefs-and-actions is not just internally consistent, but it also has high quality, it's better than other beliefs-and-actions they could choose.   /   How?  A person can reduce their cognitive dissonance — by increasing their confidence in their own views, and against opposing views — in many related kinds of motivated reasoning.*  As described above, they can adjust some of their ideas or actions.  And if necessary they can rationalize by saying “my thoughts (or actions) are acceptable because ____” and filling the blank with a rationalization, as when thinking “the justifiability-and-consistency of my beliefs isn't perfect, but it's good enough,” or even using a postmodern self-defense by thinking “I don't have to justify my beliefs with evidence-and-logic because they're my personal beliefs that I'm entitled to have,” or in other ways.  And they can increase their confidence in the evidence-and-logic for their view (and against other views) by changing their perception of the relevant evidence, or the logic they use for evaluation.  For example,...  With confirmation bias, they accept evidence that supports (confirms) their own view, but they reject evidence that de-supports (disconfirms) their view, or that supports an alternative view.  Or they use gentle uncritical logic when evaluating the pros & cons for their own view, but not for other views;  and they can shift the evaluative “burden of proof” so it favors their own belief by asking “can I believe this?” for the view they want to accept, and “must I believe this?” for a view they want to reject.  Or... {there are other ways to increase confidence for individuals and for groups, as described in pages I've linked-to here.}

How?  * motivated reasoning occurs when people (individually and in groups) "use emotionally-biased reasoning to produce justifications or make decisions that are most desired rather than those that accurately reflect the evidence, while still reducing cognitive dissonance.  In other words, motivated reasoning is the tendency to find arguments in favor of conclusions we want to believe to be stronger than arguments for conclusions we do not want to believe."   {quoted from Wikipedia}  {other sources}

Why?  people (individually and in groups) have mixed motivations, combining logic and emotion;  logically we want to have accurate understanding, but emotionally we want to have a positive self-image so we can feel good about ourselves (as individuals) and (as individuals in groups) we want to get respect from others and have supportive allies, and (as individuals & as groups) we want to win arguments and have a positive group-image.

over-confidence by groups:  How?  Earlier there is a summary of polarization, principles, and interpersonal pressures in groups.  I won't say much more here, because the interactive dynamics of groups is more complex than the "ways to increase confidence" for individuals, and I still have a lot to learn before I try to write more about it.  And also because you probably know much of the "how" already, from your own experiences in groups that are small and large, in person and online.

 

Should we be pessimistic?  Maybe.  At least we should be realistic.  I think postmodernists "began with useful questions" by critically asking “what evidence do you want to find?” and “how are you evaluating the evidence?” but they have pushed their useful ideas to foolish extremes.  As an optimistically confident educator, I want to believe that most people can be rational, or at least can become more rational.  I describe the Reality Checks you make by comparing Predictions (based on “how you think the world is”) with Observations (of “how the world really is”) for the purpose of deciding whether to modify your worldview so it helps you more accurately see the world as it really is.  But if some people (many people? most?) want to continue seeing the world in the ways they want to see it, even after they see evidence that logically should lead them to modify their views, the use of Reality Checks will be less effective.  The students in our class "learned that IF we want accurate understanding we should get the best information and arguments that all position-views can claim as support."  But maybe this "if" doesn't describe the way people often think, if instead we often want to see things in ways that support our own views, whether or not this is an accurate understanding of reality.  But despite reasons for pessimism, I'm hoping more people will want to think-and-do in ways that lead to better understanding and more respect

 

Soldier Mindset or Scout Mindset?  I like the comparison of these different ways to think (with different goals for thinking) by Julia Galef, who explains why you think you're right - even when you're wrong (11:37).   Soldiers & Scouts  —  The goal of a soldier is to be an effective fighter;  for achieving this goal, it's useful to see things over-simplistically, to view yourself as “the good guy” (totally) and your opponent as “a bad guy” (totally) who deserves to be the enemy you hate, and fight.  The goal of a scout is to find truth, to accurately know the current situation, to know the number of opposing soldiers, their locations, their equipment, and other relevant information;  as a scout, you're trying to make observations that are correct, to serve as a solid foundation for a wise planning of strategies;  to achieve this goal, it's useful to see things accurately, to view the world as it actually is.  Julia ends (beginning at 7:38) by describing a Scout Mindset — "trying to get an accurate picture of reality, even when that's unpleasant or inconvenient" — and some emotional characteristics that motivate this way of thinking:  being curious (wanting to learn, enjoying new discoveries);  being willing to change views when it seems wise, after finding reasons for the change;  being solidly grounded with feelings of self-worth that are not diminished by admitting “I was wrong” so you're free to wisely say “I'm trying to be less wrong than I was before.”  By contrast, with a soldier mindset you would be thinking “I'm never wrong, so I must be correct now,” and your goal is to defend your current beliefs;   if you change a belief, this would be admitting “I was wrong” and you would define the change as weakness, when you're thinking-and-feeling like a soldier.  But when you're thinking-and-feeling like a scout, a change will be strength if the change is logically justified by what you've recently learned about reality;  as a scout, your goal is to see the world clearly, the way it really is, to search for truth so your understanding will become more accurate.

Combinations of Soldier-and-Scout:  {a disclaimer: This paragraph is mainly my ideas, not those of Galef, who I assume would agree with some (but not all) of what I'll say.}   Nobody is purely soldier or purely scout.  Each of us combines some of both, with our thinking-and-feeling occasionally near an extreme of all-soldier or all-scout, but usually somewhere between, a blending of soldier and scout, with their relative strength depending on the life-context.  As emphasized by Galef, the key to scout mindset is motivation, it's wanting to see the world accurately, as it really is, to find truth.  My hope is that a scout mindset will be used by more people, more often, in more aspects of their lives.  But is this too optimistic?  Often it seems more likely that many people will continue in their over-confidence in thinking and feeling that “my view is almost-totally correct, and those with other views are almost-totally wrong, because they are (to some extent) stupid and/or bad.”  Why does this happen?  One reason is because all of us have mixed motivations;  we want to have accurate understanding, but we also want to win arguments and have supportive allies.  When our main goals are wins & allies, a common strategy is to get knowledge as a scout (to improve understanding) and then use knowledge as a soldier (to win arguments & gain allies);  unfortunately, when this happens and understanding is weaponized, often the overall result is increasing polarization & disrespect, instead of increasing mutual respect.     /     In addition to the metaphor-pair of soldier & scout, another useful pair (similar in some ways) is lawyer & judge;  opposing lawyers argue for their views (as in soldiering) and (as in scouting) a judge tries to determine what is more accurate and/or more useful.  Typically a judge (or jury) is the “audience” who gets conflicting information from the lawyer-debaters who argue for different views.  By analogy, any person who is getting information about differing views may want to aim for neutrality, like an ideal judge.  If they really want to be a neutral judge, they can try to understand-and-reduce the influences (coming from within themselves and from other people) that tend to make their judging be biased (either unintentionally, or consciously to pursue a goal-directed purpose) in ways that will help them achieve personal benefits in their self-image and in their groups, at the expense of neutral judging.     {more about Julia Galef}

 


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Education to encourage Understanding and Respect

In our schools, we can encourage accurate understanding and respectful attitudes by avoiding the indoctrination that occurs when students hear only Monday's arguments without the counter-arguments of Tuesday.  For a variety of important issues, we can design argumentation activities that help students accurately understand the main views — by describing each view {and the best arguments that can be used to defend it} accurately,* so its description {and system of logical defenses} avoids any inaccurate distortion that has been dishonestly constructed for the purpose of turning this view into an easily-defeated weak strawman — and students logically evaluate each of the views.  When this kind of activity is done well, students can improve their thinking skills, in their logical evaluating of arguments & counter-arguments, in their planning of persuasion strategies and their communication skills.

How?  In common language, an argument often involves hostile attitudes & words, and maybe even hostile actions.  But during argumentation in a classroom, students should reduce hostile attitudes that can lead to antagonistic words & angry confrontation.  More generally, a teacher can encourage students to be “peacemakers” who try to reduce hostility (in attitudes, words, actions) by themselves and by others, both inside the classroom and (especially) outside it.

How?  A simple informal activity — useful in all areas of everyday life, inside & outside the classroom — is to just listen to another person during a conversation, because it's an opportunity to better understand what they are thinking and feeling.

How?  One teaching method is that of my teacher (Gerald DiCarlo at Loara High School in Anaheim, CA) with HIM doing the expert analysis-and-debating Monday, and then Tuesday.  His method was time-effective for helping us quickly learn the pros & cons of differing views on a wide range of interesting life-relevant topics.  But methods with STUDENTS being “active” will be more effective in helping students improve their own thinking skills.*  For example, one kind of argumentation activity would have expert analysis-and-debating done by students — either individually or (typically more time-practical & educationally effective) in cooperative teams — with students first arguing for one view, and then (after a period of preparation & planning) arguing for the other view(s).   /   For example, a high-level version of this classroom activity is a recent debate tournament when the topic was "Medicare for All" and in different rounds a team was arguing sometimes for it, but sometimes against it.  Therefore, students were highly motivated to know "the best information and arguments [and counter-arguments] that both position-views [pro & con] can claim as support."  The main pros & cons are described in these videos, along with tips for skillful debating. {iou – later I'll choose a few shorter overviews for links, but so far my favorite is thorough but long [1:29:29] by the coach for MSU (Brett) and a national champion (Mia), plus some intelligent comments by viewers.}

How?  * What methods are most effective?  Most educators think the best way to improve thinking skills is with active practice, when students “actively think” during a challenging activity.   /   I think it's also useful to explicitly define the educational goals.  Although our teacher never said “you are learning the pros & cons of issue-positions, and how to think more effectively, and how to understand others & respect them,” we did learn all of these.  But I think more of us would have learned more if he had been more explicit in explaining "what could be learned" from what we were doing.  Eventually, by thinking back on my experiences, I realized how the two semesters in his class had affected my thinking in beneficial ways.  But probably "more of us would have learned more" if he had explicitly described his goals-for-learning.

[[    {a strategy: Also, when an argumentation activity has "expert analysis-and-debating done by students" the teacher is less likely to be justifiably criticized for being personally biased. ]] ==

 


 

I.O.U. - Eventually I'll write a brief introduction for this page, before the current "Monday plus Tuesday" beginning.  The purpose of this introduction would be to place our instruction into a social context, to show reasons why the educational goals — to improve understanding & respect — would be valuable for individuals and for society.  Below (in the gray box) are some ideas that, after being developed-and-revised, will be used in the introduction, to briefly describe the concept of “teamwork → tribalism” (and why we should try to avoid tribalism) that is described here` with these ideas:

Kindness plus Empathy:  When you want to be kind — and you combine your kindness with empathy — this will help you...

Choose a Win-Win Goal:  In many common life-situations, when you are trying to "make things better" your two understandings (external for others, and internal for self) are combined when you ask — while you are defining your goals — “what do they want?” (using empathy to understand others) and (using self-empathy to understand yourself) “what do I want?” and (if you choose to define your goal as an optimal win-win result) “what do we want?”     /     You also make choices when you...

Define the Scope of Your Win-Win Goals:  How broadly do you define "they" when you're trying to achieve win-win results?  If you want to decrease the unfortunate tendency of positive teamwork to become negative tribalism, one strategy is for you (and those you influence) to increase your...

Understanding and Respect:  One of the many ways we can improve relationships is to develop better teamwork.  But one strategy for developing strong relationships among insiders (within a team) — by promoting hostile “us against them” attitudes toward outsiders (not in the team) — can convert positive teamwork into negative tribalism.   { I'm calling it negative tribalism because tribe-like strong loyalties produce some positive effects and some negative effects. }     One kind of educational activity that can help reduce the negative aspects of tribalism is examined in a page [it's the page you're now reading] that describes how my favorite high school teacher, by using informative debates in his civics class, helped us develop Accurate Understandings and Respectful Attitudes."  {the paragraph then continues by summarizing ideas in this page, like this...}

How?  After he helped us carefully-and-diligently study an issue, so our understandings of different position-perspectives were more accurate and thorough, usually we recognized that even when we have justifiable reasons to prefer one position,* people on other sides of an issue may also have justifiable reasons, both intellectual and ethical, for believing as they do, so we learned respectful attitudes.   {* yes, he wanted us to find "justifiable reasons" because his educational goal was not a logically-fuzzy postmodern relativism, instead he promoted a logically approriate humility with confidence that is not too little and not too much.}    When this kind of educational process is done well, it can produce a foundation of empathetic understanding that is needed for authentic understanding & respect, that helps us be more kind in our feeling & thinking & actions.

 

[[ note: Some of the ideas below already have been developed earlier in the page, after I wrote them below -- and all ideas will be moved around between different locations inside the page. ]]

[[ One of the many ways we can improve relationships, and improve our problem-solving productivity, is to develop better teamwork among solution-producing collaborators during a problem-solving project in any area, including education.  Unfortunately, one way to develop teamwork — which often is effective, so it's commonly used — is to encourage hostile attitudes of us-against-them, of friends-against-enemies — but this can convert productive teamwork into confrontational tribalism. ]]

[[ somewhere, I'll describe pros & cons, benefits & drawbacks, for those within a group and outside it ]]

[[ In many ways, the group is encouraging its members to be unkind.  {originally this sentence, and later the one that follows, were part of a transition to "Empathy and Kindness" in the left-side partner page so it will be revised to fit in this intro}  Hopefully one long-term result [of monday/tuesday instruction] is that students will want to be more kind, to reduce their win-lose thinking — when this is possible (and it usually is, especially in the long run) — that is based on assuming a zero-sum game, to instead aim for achieving an optimal win-win result.   {but sometimes for important issues an "us-versus-them warfare" seems necessary, especially when an outcome must be either win-lose or lose-win, as in an election;  but even when the election itself is win-lose, other aspects of the election process can be approached so the result is more win-win and less win-lose or lose-lose. ]]

 

[[ also, maybe elsewhere I'll do more descriptions of why we should avoid a fuzzy postmodern relativism that claims "all views are logically valid & morally good", why we should aim for a reasonable balance (between overly-harsh criticism and no criticism) when we're evaluating different positions on controversial issues ]]

 


 

If you want to discuss any of these ideas,
you can contact me, <crusbult@wisc.edu> ;
Craig Rusbult, Ph.D. - my life on a road less traveled
 
Page-URL is https://educationforproblemsolving.net/design-thinking/da-ua.htm
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