How Civil Discussion Makes Us Wiser II: Understanding Ourselves

Civil discussion can not only help us understand the world around us, as I explained last time, it can also help us understand ourselves better.  In my opinion, this is easily the most underrated value of discussion.

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Photo by Tif Pic

“Know thyself” is among the most ancient maxims in Western civilization. Yet that is advice that’s hard to follow in the best of times, especially on one’s own.  How many of us take the time to truly examine who we are—and are truly honest with ourselves when we do?  Then there’s the problem of change: neither we nor the world sit still for long.

Civil discussion helps us deal with all of these challenges.  It provides an opportunity to slow down and examine our beliefs.  Voicing—and explaining—our beliefs in an atmosphere of respect in which other participants do the same thing helps us clarify our beliefs and decide which really matter and which might need adjusting.  It also helps us “update” our self-knowledge in light of changes in the world (the world of policy, in particular) and how we think about it.

Notice that none of these benefits require us to “change” our thinking in the usual sense, much less change “who we are.”  Just the opposite, in fact.  All of these results of civil discussion (clarifying, sorting, and updating our basic beliefs) actually help us find—and stay true to—“who we really are.”

Photo by Tif Pic

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