Archive | October, 2018

When NOT to engage in a discussion

14 Oct

“We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN” 

Thus reads the headlines of the Guardian’s website last week.

A couple of days later,  I overheard two of my middle school colleagues planning a combined 8th-grade science/math unit, designing it to deepen students’ thinking skills and alert them to a ‘real-world’ problem based on this recently released UN report.

As they talked about this ‘climate catastrophe’ I felt the temptation to butt in and question the validity of the data behind the United Nations’ proclamation. But I dismissed that urge.

Why?  because although I had listened to news about this proclamation via Spanish and French news podcasts, I had not read the UN report, let alone absorbed the content and formulated talking points. I realized that in engaging my colleagues, I’d be in territory over my head.

But there was a third option.  To engage or remain silent were not my only choices. The other way could have been to pose questions about the report with the goal of understanding the UN’s position and the reasons why these two teachers believed it was credible.

To be honest, I didn’t feel like investing the energy to do that.  Besides, they were actually doing some curriculum planning and my questioning would have interrupted them.  Nonetheless, the reminder to either ask questions or be up to speed on a topic re-motivated me NOT to neglect my calling as a ‘logical gal’.

I also recognized a presupposition I hold. And that realization subdued me.

My ASSUMPTION is this: Reports like the UN’s are little more than scare tactics, motivated by someone’s concealed special interests or agenda.

It’s a routine practice for each of us logical Joe’s and Jane’s to work at identifying our discourse partner’s presuppositions, ONCE we’re trained to seek them out.  But we must not be blind to our own assumptions. Let me give you an example:

Last week I listened to an hour-long podcast about how Australian Dr. Gary Fettke has been finally vindicated in his researched beliefs about nutrition.  He had been legally silenced by the Australian Medical Board for counseling his patients to follow a low-carb eating protocol for health reasons.

As of last week, this official organ of Australian medical licensing reversed their position reinstated his license and wrote him an apology.  During the interview with Fettke, I learned that the dietician who had lodged a ‘complaint’, which prompted the eventual shutdown of his practice and ensuing legal battles, had been merely a pawn.  The Dietitians Association of Australia and the Heart Foundation together with some of the processed carb major players like Nestle, Kelloggs and others had colluded DUE to decreased sales of cereal over the previous few years.  So…the axiom – Follow the Money seemed to explain Fettke’s experience.

That podcast conversation, resting in my short-term memory, mingled with reports on similar ‘collusion’ within the climate-change-is-a-crisis-focused lobby. So….. when I listened in on my colleagues’ conversation, I automatically ‘assigned’ the same motive to this UN report without investigating the content myself.

Humility is good for us!  We are all capable of committing the very same logical errors we spot in others.  It pays to think before I open my mouth!

 

Learning to say NO – a life skill from logic

1 Oct

It was one of those sleepless nights this past week.  During the wakeful period, my subconscious memory united some disparate past experiences into one theme.

The prompt for this sorting and configuring of earlier ‘histories’ in my life must have been the previous day’s unacceptable 7th-grade boys classroom behaviors.  I had been really bothered because 3 boys continue to distract our French class, preventing me from teaching the others.

On my drive home, I spent time thinking and formulating an articulate reason to communicate to these boys about WHY this pattern ‘cannot continue’.

Once I had my argument in place, I knew I would find it far easier for the tête-à-tête talks I planned the next day.  The foundation and strength to say NO, you cannot do this to me or to my class!” rested on having a sound reason.

All that was conscious.  But in the dark quiet of the night, God brought to mind 4 different segments of my past life where I failed to say ‘NO’:

  • in overeating and binging on M&Ms and cookies for 9 years of my life
  • engaging in sex before marriage
  • disciplining a son who continually tested the limits
  • setting guidelines of propriety for a teenage son and his girlfriend at our house

It seems to me that the reason WHY I couldn’t draw a line and say NO in each of these scenarios is due to the lack of childhood training in decision making.  That is –  practice in searching for and settling on strong reasons to hold fast to a position or value.  A belief or decision is pretty weak and indefensible even to yourself if you don’t know ‘your why’.

I AM going to point my finger at my parents and my upbringing in the area of how to make decisions, important moral ones, and the everyday kind.

My mom came late to a true faith in Jesus when I was 16 or so.  Neither she nor my dad taught me (whether from God’s moral perspective or a secular perspective) just HOW to think about values and dilemmas, HOW to arrive at a REASON-based decision.

In short, I did NOT learn how to say ‘No’.

I did NOT learn the rule ‘Always be ready to give a reason for your decision and view.’

Training in logic, that is in language-based THINKING, does furnish the practitioner with specific skills, invaluable for life.

When I taught at a classical Christian school in Yorktown, Virginia, I introduced logic to 7th and 8th graders.  It was I who learned the most!  I just wish that I had been gifted with that kind of mental training at their young age.

So for all you like me, who did not receive this early instruction, all you need to know is the format of a basic syllogism.

It works like this:

The 3rd proposition (call it a sentence for simplicity’s sake) IS the conclusion of a syllogism.  We find that in culture, people spout mostly conclusions – naked! – without the rest of the preceding syllogism.

For example:

  • Criticizing my views is intolerant
  • Guns are our biggest problem
  • Americans eat poorly.
  • Most lawyers are greedy

What SHOULD precede each of these conclusions or propositions are 2 logically ordered propositions or reasons that connect, one to the other, leading TO the conclusion. In other words, we need to have reasons for what we do or don’t do!  And the reasons have to lead properly to the conclusion.

When I struggled with binging in earlier years, I can distinctly remember my irrational line of thinking:

I’m bored studying.  I’ll go buy a quarter pound of M&Ms at the sweet shop. Why shouldn’t I do something pleasant?.…..and then as I began to eat them, I can’t think of any compelling reason NOT to finish the entire amount.…and I would.  And feel sick and disgusted.

Had I been conditioned to point to a reason for my decisions, I’m assuming that I could have come up something compelling and rational that at least would have provided a few minutes to ponder outcomes.

For 9 years I accepted this irrational thinking, never challenging my beliefs.  Control mechanisms like diets were my only tool.  They didn’t work.

The bulimia continued until God in His providence enabled Mike and me to conceive our first child.  All of a sudden I DID have an irrefutable reason to stop the binging and purging.  Our baby’s health!

A syllogism might have looked like this, had I been equipped with this particular reasoning tool.

Premise 1:  I should do all that is in my power to eat healthy in order to help my growing baby.

Premise 2: Binging on junk food and then throwing up is not a healthy eating practice.

Conclusion: Therefore, I should avoid this harmful pattern

Although I didn’t go on to practice such reasoning in other areas of my life, God in His mercy DID remove the desire to binge after Graham was born.  That was pure grace.  And I recall this gift and thank Him frequently.

Age doesn’t matter when it comes to improving our thinking and reasoning skills. Now that I SEE the practiced pattern of NOT being able to say no for lack of a compelling, articulated reason, I have committed myself, when boundary/decision situations arise, to this NEW practice of stop, consider, articulate a strong reason for a necessary NO.

If you have children still at home or can influence grandkids, then think about helping them acquire this decision-making tool.  Maybe you think it’s an intuitive response or routine.  For some of us, at least me, it isn’t.  I’m still a learner.