Monday, January 30, 2017

Inflammatory? If the truth causes such distress, that's not my problem

"Approach is your problem, you don't know the proper method to approach a subject" - that's a phrase I'm often told and, to some extent, they're probably right.  I don't agree, however, that there is any subject that a person should be able to bring up that nobody else is allowed to comment on.

This is a topic I've blogged about - my particular comment/argument being "If you bring god to the table, he's up for discussion" in reference to someone wishing to pray at the table before dinner.  If you find my desire to disagree with your beliefs to be inflammatory, that's your problem.  However, I wish it were truly that simple.

There is reason, at times, to consider approach.  Sometimes the ultimate goal needs to be determined and the value of questioning beliefs has to be weighed against other items that might be of greater value (ie. being invited back to a dinner party, continuing a long-standing relationship, etc.). 

You can't use logic to combat emotions.  Logic and reason, by their very application, are subject to revision as facts are discovered and knowledge advances while emotions leave people grasping firmly to feelings and opinions not derived by reason alone.  Often, too, emotions and feelings become attached to positions that were (at least partially) reasoned into.  A person's desire for something to be true is often the motivator for holding on to a belief.

Let me give a few examples of times when I've been told that my approach is wrong (some I can agree with, in hindsight, while others I firmly disagree with):

  • My wife and I were walking in a beach front community in California when we came across a couple of men holding buckets soliciting donations and dressed like police officers.  They were not police officers but the uniforms suggested military or police affiliation.  The two men were collecting money to end poverty and the uniforms stated that fact.  The uniforms also showed a religious affiliation.  As we approached the street corner that they were standing on, I said to the two gentleman that if they want to end poverty, a good start would be to sell their churches and use the money to teach about or supply birth control or put the money towards actual mental health services.

  • While hanging out with friends in an informal environment, one of my friends said "thank god" in reference to a story about a friend nearly getting killed in a car accident to which I replied "No.  Thank the paramedics, thank technology, thank the doctors, thank the scientists who have made cars safer."
  • A co-worker brought up that they were going to see a laser clinic to help them stop smoking.  Upon hearing that, I informed him that he could find a better way to waste his money by saying "Does it not bother you that studies have shown that laser therapy is no better than placebo or is this a case of you not having a match or the facility to burn your money yourself?"

I recently encountered a situation when, in response to me dismissing a claim that high doses of vitamin C prevent (or shorten) the common cold, an acquaintance got upset with me.  I said "are you upset that you were lied to and wasted your money on something or are you upset that I told you the truth?  It seems that you're upset with me when I'm the one who has helped you the most."

My approach wasn't ideal, I'm sure, and they labeled me a "know-it-all" to which I replied, "I don't know it all, but you brought up something that I've done much research into."  I became so interested in the claims about vitamin C because, before my dive into skepticism, I believed it and took high doses of vitamin C for the exact same reason.  The turning point, to skepticism and away from woo-woo, was when an acquaintance dismissed my activity with a simple "you might want to read consumer reports, they just showed that it is a scam".

Surely we all agree that there can be better ways to say things but it is hard to argue that simply ignoring it will result in a change in behaviour or belief.  With that said, some people do respond to abrupt or, seemingly, inflammatory/insensitive comments with actually considering their position or belief - I definitely did.

My examples above have been in situations where the number of people around was rather limited but, where there is a bigger group of people, it is also good to consider the audience as it isn't always who you are talking to but who else might be listening.  When you encounter, for example, a street preacher that has an audience, what you say is also being heard by them.  You might make a point or spark an idea in someone in the crowd but have no impact on the street preacher him or herself.