This topic very much underpins all I talk about here and seems so fundamental to how we live our lives: we might need others, value their ideas, and enjoy their company but ultimately we must make our own decisions as we have to live by them.
These days so much effort is seemingly being made to shape our opinions and actions; whether in politics, lifestyle or consumer behaviour. There’s this flood of information, reaction, persuasion, and distraction that at times makes it hard to know which way to turn or what truly matters. But we do need to craft a response, because our words and actions impact all those around us.
And, in terms of winning people over, surely if certain views are correct then a conversation would be more respectful than an argument, as it leaves others free to assimilate a wider perspective that may then shift their conclusions (see Notes One). The idea of defeating someone with truth makes very little sense to me.
At some point, I encountered a definition of values that suggested they must be freely chosen, understood, cherished, defended, and acted upon. If that’s the level of inner engagement that leads to someone standing firmly with their ideas, then leaning on others or accepting their thoughts after having been beaten round the head with them doesn’t equate in my eyes.
We live in highly complicated and fast moving times where so much is shifting, so many ideas and ways of being are changing hands, and so much that offered stability or security is being stripped away. That flood of information mentioned earlier is now fairly constant, and also abstract: what can we do with these things we now know about?
Yet, in the face of all that – both the modern way of life and the waves of information accompanying it – we somehow have to find our way forwards. Do we think and act as those near us do? Do we argue with anyone who chose a different path? Or can we trust our own understanding, while retaining an open mind for the bigger picture?
For me, that last option seems strongest: to think for yourself, but listen to others. It really seems we need to find a degree of solid ground with regard to understanding the world, the information we’re presented, and the extent we can be sure of having reached our best estimation of the truth. Reality must be astoundingly complex, but I feel we can grasp enough of it to develop informed, independent ideas while bearing in mind they may not be completely right and we will likely need to alter them.
I’m not entirely convinced that’s currently being cultivated through our cultural life or social structures (Notes Two); but, given its importance for democratic and lifestyle choices, hopefully things can develop to the point where we’re all able to share our thoughts, change those we see as mistaken or incomplete, and base our lives on the firmest wisdom we can find.
Notes and References:
Note 1: Communication and the process of change
Note 1: Does truth speak for itself?
Note 2: Individual responsibility, collective standards
Note 2: Age, politics and human reasoning
Note 2: Media and responsibility
Note 2: Education’s place within society
The Change & Communication theme page also takes a broader overview of the ideas touched upon here.