Saturday, February 25, 2012
I love discourse, verbal interchange, conversation - especially when it is regarding new ideas or challenging thoughts. When I was in high school, I remember my classmates would always roll their eyes and say, "You have an opinion about everything!" Now, in my graduate classes, I find that I am often the only one asking questions. There is sort of a joke in college classes (probably high school too), that if the students just stay quiet, the teacher will finish the lecture early and everyone can leave. You don't want to be "that person" who is always asking a question, extending the conversation and the time of the class.
Yeah, I'm that person. The one who always has something to say.
But lately, I find it harder and harder to engage in meaningful discourse. And ironically, this is most evident in my graduate classes at Ohio State. This could be just a misperception on my part, but it seems to be difficult to really engage ideas, both with my classmates and with my teachers.
I might ask a question like, "What is the root meaning of that word, and is its use really applicable in this situation?" Or, "What is the feasibility of this theory in real life, and if its not applicable in its truest sense, why don't the authors admit as much?"
When I ask a question like that, I get the impression that I come across as being confrontational. But this is not my intent. In my opinion, this is the nature of discourse, and more importantly, the essence of learning. As a student, I am engaging the information in such a way that I am comparing it to what I already know and understand, and looking for new insights, but also points of weakness or areas in which I need clarification.
Perhaps the key difference here is engaging the information. Such an approach is not common, ironically (again) in our communication age. We typically read the webpages we prefer and already agree with. We watch television, which is a one-sided distribution of information. We don't talk back to the TV (actually, I do, and my dog gives me a weird look). As a society, we are passive in our learning.
I might be making too much of all of this, but if an over-generalization can be made, namely that we are more passive in our learning than engaging with new information, I think there are many examples in our lives. Think about so-called "social networks," or "political discourse" (a misnomer if there ever was one?).
This is one reason why I love my faith community. We value discourse and we try to foster lively but friendly discussion as best we can. Admittedly, this is difficult! And perhaps that is because across society, we don't participate in discourse very much, at least not without it appearing to be confrontational and aggressive.
Personally, I will continue to seek out and join in discourse of all types. I will also aim to be as gentle and friendly in my demeanor when I say things like, "I fundamentally disagree." But I will also aim to be open to learn in the deepest sense, which inherently involves a change in my person and being. I still believe that this can happen through meaningful, and yes sometimes heated, discourse.