Last week, I discussed what it means to develop a critical mind and how it can be done. In a world submerged by information and data, it gets harder everyday to know what constitutes the truth and what represents the interpretation of what actually happened. I remember hearing a friend saying that we can never find the Truth (with a capital T). The best we can do is to bridge the gap between the Truth and our own truth as much as possible. However, since every person has their own opinion and theory on a particular subject, will this not develop numerous truths from different sources and of various natures?
The answer is yes, and this is expected to happen when we are encouraged to improve our critical thinking truths. This leads to another question: how many truths are there and is there a limited number of acceptable truths? The common concept called The Principle of Many Truths illustrates this. For any given subject or information given, a multitude of versions and interpretations of the Truth are valid and acceptable, as long as the argumentation is coherent, consistent, and backed by thorough facts and figures demonstrating causation and not correlation. In other words, Cum hoc ergo propter hoc.
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
– Salman Rushdie
Given that there are numerous possible truths connected to one particular event or idea, it is safe to say that opinions will often differ and come to clash with each other in certain cases. Eventually, some opinions will even target and collide with what one considers to be a basic belief or value. At this particular point, the conversation can take on an ugly turn – one it often does amongst the average population – : it goes from being a reasonable and logical conversation to an emotional one. The end result of this transition is something we see on a daily basis on social media or in live action: people get offended and consider the other party’s opinion as a personal attack. As weird as this sounds, an entire psychology hides behind this social mechanism. Marty Nemko, who holds a PhD from the University of California – Berkeley, considers the act of taking offense as a bigger epidemic than the COVID-19 outbreak or that of Ebola. According to Nemko’s article, this happens whenever something triggers the Orthodoxy of things whilst we are encouraged to accept diversity and view it as a way to grow. Another reason as to why people take offense easily is connected to the interpretation of the other party’s speech.
Put simply, when one is confronted with an opinion they disagree with, they tend to take it personally like some sort of personal attack on the person’s own being, creating some beef that was not even there in the first place. This situation rises to the surface in all possible subjects from those as controversial as politics or economics to the simple superficial matters as football. As soon as one side of the conversation skews on this side, the other side will also tend to take the responses personally, turning the debate from a rational and civilised exchange to an emotional and chaotic heated discussion. At this point, interruptions start flying in, voices get louder and the exchange digresses from the topic to focus more on roasting each other.
“Do not let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
– Steve Jobs
Two weeks ago, I elaborated on the importance of researching whatever topic you have an opinion about. The objective was to encourage people to be sceptical about any information they receive and require to be convinced of what they are talking about. By doing so, there is always the possibility that new evidence will appear and force you to reconsider everything you possibly stand for. This is especially true as we all have different sources and so everyone knows something that someone else does not. We are entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to impose them on those who disagree with us. Freedom of speech is a sacred right in all democracies; however it loses its true meaning when we start to cut people off and look down on them because they disagree with us. Freedom of speech is even the very First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
You are free to say whatever you want. Just be mature enough to bear the consequences of the words that come out of your mouth. No one has the right to hurt you for expressing your own opinion, but this does not erase the fact that we live in a world filled with the discrepancies of education and overflow of social media propaganda. It is mandatory to have tolerance in order to protect the freedom of speech for all, with the understanding that anything taken to the extreme becomes toxic for society. This is what Sir Karl Popper defines as the Paradox of Tolerance which states that as paradoxical as it sounds, “defending tolerance requires to not tolerate the intolerant”.
I could never stress enough the importance of doing your research on any topic before generating your own opinion. Everything has to be put in context, otherwise the situation will always be misunderstood, generating more digressions of the Truth. Never form an opinion by basing it all on just one part of the process that suits you. This reminds me of a scene from the series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which I find interesting when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement. Will Smith claims to know everything about Black History just because he read the autobiography of Malcolm X three times, until his Aunt Viv (Janet Hubert) tells him this. I will leave it here.
“If you do not stand for something, you will fall for everything.”
– Malcolm X