How Civil Discussion Makes Us Wiser I: Understanding the World

Civil discussion—discussion that is truly respectful, constructive and open and fair to all views makes us wiser in multiple ways.  The first is by helping us understand the world better.  (I’ll look at the each of the others in my next three entries.)

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Participating in a civil discussion means both speaking and listening, of course.   Both actually help us learn more about the world in general and the world of policy in particular.

As speakers, we get to test our understanding of facts and concepts.  We also get a chance to see whether what we think is at stake in an issue is really so very important after all and whether there might not be other things at stake as well—perhaps things that matter to us even more.

As listeners, we get to add to our understanding of policy and the background that forms its context.  No one in their right mind takes what others say at face value; this sort of learning requires reflecting on what we hear others contribute.  But what others say always has the potential to teach us something—even when that “something” is about why we think other people’s views are limited or misguided.  (Perhaps this was what led Galileo to say that “I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.”)

The more we understand the world, the more responsibly we can act in it.  Civil discussion is a powerful tool for understanding the social world we share and, for that reason, something we all owe ourselves—and each other.

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