Archive | Questions RSS feed for this section

The abortion issue and missing compassion

31 May

We now read the New York Times Sunday paper.  It takes us 3 weeks to make our way through the articles and features.  I disagree with a some of what I read, but the writing is often excellent. I learn a lot and THINK hard.  Others’ contrary views certainly exercise my patience but sometimes they prove painful to tolerate kindly.

A self-proclaimed ‘abortion doula’ writes about the need to offer compassion for women who only want to make their own decisions, without judgment.

The author makes several remarkable assertions without reasons or statistics.  I do understand that her word budget probably limited her to around 700 words. But the danger in bald-faced statements is that the average UN-thinking Joe or Jane might swallow them down whole.

The most glaring paragraph offers these ‘facts’.

  • “When we are denied abortions, we are 3 times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line, compared to those who are able to get the abortions they want.”

I checked this ‘fact’ and found one study from which Sherman most likely drew.  The women supposedly denied abortions in this study numbered 182.  My first question focused on whether 182 is a significantly large enough sample size from which to draw valid conclusions.  Furthermore, I’m unclear whether the women in the study already lived below the poverty line before they became pregnant.  Doesn’t it make sense that after the birth of a baby, one’s ability/availability to hold down a job decreases?

  • “About 2/3 of people who have abortions are parents who want to give the children they already have the best life.”

How does she know what they intend for their other kids?  How does adding another child to the family automatically imply a degraded life for the older children? How is the one (assumed desire) related to the current condition (carrying another child)?

Finally the most dubious cited statistic:

  • “95% of women surveyed don’t regret their decisions, and it doesn’t affect our mental health.”

That statistic, I found, comes from one study of a carefully circumscribed group of women.  Here’s an analysis.  We should recognize how easy it is to find any study you want on the internet to back up your viewpoint.

So given the questionable reliability of ‘facts’ and studies out there in cyber space just what questions should a Logical Joe or Jane pose? Classic questions that fit the essay in question are:

  1. How do you know that?
  2. What is your evidence?

Questions provide you TIME to think and clearer understanding of your interlocutor’s point of view.  I find that people are more willing to engage when I ask questions.  My challenge is to REMEMBER to avoid direct statements and use the softer approach.

Finishing up what I saw in this essay, let me share its staggering conclusion:

The crux of the issue is not whether you would have an abortion yourself.  It’s whether you would stand in the way of someone else’s decision.”

Worded like this, readers are led to a conclusion that actually deflects them away from the essential issue of the life of the unborn to the arena of personal liberty.  And what about compassion, that ‘unconditional kindness’ the abortion doula says every woman who finds herself pregnant deserves?   Doesn’t the baby deserve compassion?  Where’s the kindness shown him or her?

Do you see the deeper moral question that has broad ramifications?

  • What do we do when ‘rights’ are in conflict with one another?  How do we decide between competing moral values?

Our Declaration of Independence promotes the protection of  ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’  How do we prioritize competing rights of life and liberty? What if someone’s right to life contradicts someone’s right to liberty?  Who gets to decide? What considerations inform the decision process?

Life is complex.  Certainly most issues are too layered to present anything coherent or rational in a tweet or even one 700-word opinion piece in the New York Times.  We need MORE thinkers.  And thinkers need to keep practicing their skills.

That’s why I read the New York Times Sunday paper!

Who’s the one with a bias?

12 Apr

The email response greeted me with this first sentence:

“This site and its articles are extremely biased and on the verge of alt-right/tea party. It reminds me of Breitbart.   I have a hard time taking much of what they say seriously. ” 

I had sent a work colleague an essay about why the Swiss seem to encounter little to no terrorism in their country.  The author had posted her thoughts on a conservative website (Townhall).  Since this 8th-grade humanities teacher seeks to train his students to ask deeper questions, I thought he would appreciate the anomaly that Switzerland represents in a Europe menaced by terrorism.

I wasn’t prepared for his differing worldview, but I should have been given his youth and generational milieu and the fact that we teach in Asheville, NC.  Taken aback at first, I carefully chose my response.  Rewriting my comments in the form of questions (I reflected) might make it easier for him to read and accept my thoughts.

To his credit I realized he had indeed read the entire essay and given it some consideration. His comments bore that out.  So I complimented him on that, but asked him the logical question all of us should employ initially:  Why do you think that? (regarding his dismissive first couple of sentences)

Here is how I worded the rest of my response to his opening salvo: Why is that?  Shouldn’t we judge ideas on their merit?  I think that’s the genetic fallacy, to dismiss a viewpoint because of its source.

Continuing on gently, I spring-boarded off of his observations with some further thoughts.  In the end, I repeated my acknowledgement of his generous use of time DESPITE his skepticism about the ‘validity’ of the point of view.

What I re-learned from this encounter was this:

  • just as I and my husband and some like-minded friends believe the other side is ‘biased’, they also assume we are predisposed
  • there is no cause for fear when someone tries to marginalize one’s beliefs and reasons.  I probably know more than this young man.  I read a lot more and I’ve been at this clear thinking/reasoning work for years now.
  • asking questions is a safe and disarming approach in responding to what might FEEL like an attack

I’m grateful for the occasion to exercise some of my ‘logical gal’ skills.

 

Listening in action

8 Mar

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.  James 1:19

My mind has been pondering several blog posts I’ve recently read lamenting the state of public discourse and what each of us should do to ameliorate the atmosphere.

Usually when the Holy Spirit wants to drive home a necessary change, He causes me to NOTICE and READ/HEAR the same message 3 times.

True to His practice, the art and gift of healthy communications was ‘front and center’ in my mind last week.  I had even articulated to my husband:

  • We should not even jump into a discussion with someone until we have taken the time and made the effort to understand and sufficiently verbalize back to the speaker his/her point of view.  And that summary, in a way, that satisfies the owner of the viewpoint.

That wise strategy bore fruit at church last Sunday.  A small conflict ruffling certain members’ feathers arose.  Communicating the complaint to others bordered on ‘talking behind the back’ of the brother in Christ whose decision about an upcoming church activity had miffed several.  The ‘miffed’ ones belonged to a certain church committee.  The ‘miff-er’ did not.

Thankful for the Holy Spirit’s recent focus on my heart, I volunteered to go to the ‘miff-er’ and ask directly why he had made the decision he did.

Here’s what I noticed:

  • I experienced NO pressure
  • my goal was simply to understand his reasoning
  • it was easy
  • he seemed pleased to be given the time to explain his thinking
  • I was able to go back and report to others what he said and recommend we allow his decision to stand
  • a leadership weakness in the church committee was revealed through this ‘conflict’
  • a procedure to avert future conflict was set in place to handle any abrupt suggestions from church members that startle us into acquiescing and making a decision without thinking and consulting the entire committee

Satan seems to enjoy stirring up dissension, especially in families, whether biological or in the Church.

A deep breath, a pause and some clear thinking combined with courtesy go a long way.  For the effort, the payoffs are out of proportion!

 

Your questions matter!

26 Oct

Control and certainty appeal to 21st century earthlings.

Is predictability always a good thing? Just how much value CAN a world of no doubts offer?

Looking at my own life, I know that routine and a state of ‘no surprises’ make me FEEL safe.

That safety, however, is sometimes illusionary.  Consider a ‘normal’ where status quo is dangerous to our health.  Against better judgment, we might still choose what the familiar. ‘They‘ say this bent to the customary translates into women likely to return to a relationship with a known abuser.  A kind of ‘better the devil you know’ reflex.

What I’m suggesting as a healthy alternative is a modus operandi that goes beyond a degree of comfort.  Bypassing certainty, this approach employs careful questions about what is NOT known.  The byproduct?  a potential wealth of new knowledge.

Good teachers borrow from the past interactive habits of Socrates and Jesus to guide students to ask questions and think their way to new awareness.  Haven’t you found that you are more likely to swallow and accept a thought you generate rather than one imposed from someone else?

Kim Brooks, a 2000 alumna from the University of Virginia, writes primarily from her questions, rather than from what she knows.  In an interview for a recent article in UVa’s alumni magazine, she describes how FREEING and relief-providing this way of approaching a new book can be.

What would our schools, businesses and governmental agencies be like if constituents felt free to admit uncertainty about solutions?  Wouldn’t the entire planet heave a sigh of relief, having dumped the weight of false pride that absorbs so much energy?

Confirmation bias infection

24 Aug

“I don’t care what you say, I know what I know! And this is a problem that affects A LOT of people!”

Have you ever run into someone so wedded to her own view that she denies any evidence to the contrary?

If so, then you my friend have been stymied by Confirmation Bias.  The way I understand this pretty common phenomenon is that once someone’s mind is made up, he is loath to change it, no matter the data to the contrary.

We are all guilty of tendencies in this direction. And you can imagine that in our election season where Americans seem so impossibly entrenched in their points of view, this type of behavior pops up across the political spectrum.  No one is immune.

Why is that?  I think we have grown increasingly suspicious of ‘other’, attributing almost malicious motives to those with whom we disagree.

Love me love my dog As my dad grew older, he idolized his two dogs.  This pillow’s message was his recurrent mantra.  I see a similar tendency in our society these days.

  • LOVE ME, LOVE MY VIEWPOINT!

And woe be to anyone who disagrees with someone’s opinion, because in criticizing that person’s conviction, you are attacking the person (so he FEELS).

What to do?

Fortunately, there is a type of remedy and it doesn’t cost a penny.  Recently I listened to a discussion about confirmation bias.  And I was challenged by a practice I heard in the radio program’s interview with Dennis Prager.  In the conversation about entrenched views and a divided country, the interviewer asked him to pick one of his ‘Pragerisms’ that he tried to live himself.  He quickly offered:

  • Seek clarity over agreement

Well that applies across the board to many relationships, doesn’t it!  Right off the bat I thought of marriage.  Beyond that particular arena, this advice would do us all good in our polarized world.

And do you know what?  If our goal is to understand the other person’s point of view and to be able to articulate it accurately to HIS or HER satisfaction, then the pressure to change that person’s mind or cleverly present OUR view melts away.

We’ll also inoculate ourselves against the contagion of confirmation bias.  One person CAN make a difference in his corner of the world.

 

What are your questions?

10 Aug

Effective thinkers depend on the clarity of terms.  Whatever they think, speak or write must proceed and build on a foundation of precise and unambiguous language.  Unless they intentionally set out to deceive!

If this building block of good argumentation is indispensable, then next in importance I believe are one’s questions.

I know I’ve written about questions before, but I have come late in life to the value of examining what is said/written and NOT mentioned.  Some question templates are:

  • what COULD the author have said had he not said it that particular way?
  • what did he leave out?
  • if we exchange the predicate for the subject, what does that reveal? (yes, I recognize that converting  X is Y to Y is X is only valid for E & I propositions,  but what is uncovered through a brief look at the is often rich!)

Credit is not due me to have stumbled upon the value of questioning the speaker/writer.  I am being trained through the accumulated and daily posting of the sermons of pastor John Piper.  Listening daily to his teaching has helped me articulate some implicit assumptions or at least some hypothetical assumptions.

Thus schooled, yesterday as I read a bit of puritan pastor William Gurnall writing in The Christian in Complete Armor, I asked myself the obvious question and got back a very pointed poke!

“Whatever is the object of a saint’s (Christian’s) hope is the subject of his prayer.”

I swapped the predicate for the subject and stated the premise this way:

What I pray about reveals what I’m hoping in. 

God immediately convicted me of the nature of multitudes of past prayers over the years. Many have been of this variety:

  • Give us a nice day, Lord!

That’s pretty lame AND it reveals that my hope is effectively that I have a pleasant life with no hardship and minor problems easy to resolve, few interruptions and plenty of time and money to do what I want.

Reassuring to me IS the fact that as I take in God’s Word through daily study and God-centered prayer, my prayers are changing to reflect biblical truth.  I’m moving away from God as butler to my life to God as CENTER of my life and me as His redeemed child and servant.

My plea THIS morning was based on Colossians 1:9, 10

Father, fill me with the knowledge of your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding SO THAT I may live a life worthy of Christ, pleasing him fully.

Looking at the blanks, what is not said or written often reveals startling insights!  But that’s the fun of clear thinking.

Which question have you posed recently that has revealed something new or startling?

 

 

Presuppositions and discontent

3 Aug

Premise:

Most women at my age and stage in life have retired from full-time work

Conclusion

I should be retired from full-time work

Like most teachers who are relishing their summer sabbatical, I’ve been struggling with not wanting to go back to school in August. Turning 59 has added weight to my annual reluctance return to the classroom.

Here’s the problem:

Christians are called by God to be content in all the situations He places them. So on top of my longing for permanent summer, I recognize this grumbly attitude is sin. In essence, I’m saying to God: Your assignment for me is wrong!

As a logical gal, I’ve been working to reorder my thinking. This labor has borne fruit.

It dawned on me the other day that besides the missing first premise, I have an unspoken presupposition. Let me order my though process and fill in for you AND me what was just floating in the back of my mind:

Presupp: Retirement is both good and normal in America

Premise 1: Most workingwomen in their late 50s retire from full-time work

Premise 2: I am approaching 60

Conclusion: It would be both good and normal for me to retire NOW!

In articulating what lay behind my ‘unmet expectation’ I saw the problem!

Where did I get the idea:

  • that God’s plan for his people is to retire?
  • or that retirement is actually GOOD for me?

The point of this? Thinking through and pinning down just what grounds our feelings enables us to analyze whether what we believe is in fact TRUE.

Besides, I should know better than to indulge in that kind of discontent. God has built up a track record of meeting my needs. The most recent occasion when God came through was last winter when my husband dealt with some health issues. The verse I clung through some real suffering was Psalm 84:11:

 No good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose way is upright.

 That fact and promise allowed me to trust God’s character and plans for us when Mike was ill.

Startling, isn’t it, that until now I hadn’t transferred over God’s Word to my job as a 10-month schoolteacher.

If I am still ‘having to’ teach at age 59, then it must be because God considers it GOOD for me.

And with that, I can begin to anticipate with a lighter heart the good He has planned for this new school year.