Two things, and then another thing.

Two things I wrote last week –

1) That we need to discover ways to critique and challenge one another’s ideas without dehumanizing each other.

2) That people who subscribe to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism are assholes and no one will be at their funerals.




So…I think I might be part of the problem, here.


With that in mind, I’d like to stagger forward into this idea of asserting our opponents or enemies humanity. I could try and justify myself for what I said about objectivism, but it wouldn’t do any good. The important lesson to note is, I suck at this, but it’s still important.

Here’s an idea I’ve tossed around regarding conversations with others whom I might strongly disagree with.

I should start with the assumption that I’m wrong. When I’ve shared this with people, they often look at me quizzically and after a little while ask, “Is it ok to assert that you’re right about SOME things? Like, the life of Jesus and the Resurrection?” To an extent, they are right. I couldn’t function if there weren’t certain things I held to be true about reality, and if I constantly doubted those things I would be paralyzed. BUT! I can enter a conversation and maintain the assumption that I’m wrong about whatever we’re going to talk about, at least to some degree. I might have the correct facts, but I’m wrong if I think that everyone is interpreting them the same way I am. I might be right about the reality of Jesus’ life, but I certainly am wrong if I think I understand all of the implications of his life, death, and resurrection. I’ve got some things right, but to the extent that I don’t have, and can’t ever have, a complete picture, I can say that I’m wrong about it. I just don’t know the whole story, about anything, ever.

Why start with this assumption that I’m wrong? Because it means I’ve got something to learn, and I’m admitting that from the outset. I’m hoping to learn something from the person I’m in conversation with. I also might be less likely to use the things I think I’m right about as a rhetorical weapon if I’m not so confident that it’s the absolute, perfect, certifiable truth. Again, there are some things I HAVE to believe – simple assertions about reality – in order to function. But when I enter into conversation with someone who has different views from me, about anything, I should start with the assumption that I’m wrong about SOMEthing.

I think in some circles this is called ‘epistemological humility’ – but words with that many syllables aren’t always helpful.



~ by Joe Paparone on February 24, 2011.

2 Responses to “Two things, and then another thing.”

  1. I just heard a quote today that N.T. Wright said something like “One third of all I believe is wrong. And I don’t know which third.”

    I have often commented that Jesus said “…I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14.16-17)

    The Helper will be with us forever because we always need a better source of enlightenment. By ourselves, well we just won’t cut it.

  2. I think a lot of people agree with this idea for the most part, but when you approach something that is very dear to their heart they suddenly lose the ability to think clearly about it. That’s the nature of emotion, I guess, but we’d all do better to slow down and remember we don’t know everything about everything, even those things we’re SO SURE ABOUT 🙂

    Thanks for the good word!

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