There are times, when I am discussing a topic with someone, that I run into an interesting paradox; the other person tries to use facts and postulates about what something “officially” is or has been “defined” to make their point. And very often even when I agree with all the statements they make, something is missing.
For example, recently I spoke with someone about my interpretation of what Jesus’ message was originally supposed to be – or at least the part of it that I think makes many schools of Christian thought very attractive and enlightening (I wrote about that here, if’you’d like to check it out). The person I was talking to was saying that the Bible has a lot of weird laws that Christians have to accept by definition if the Bible is the Word of God, and that Jesus in fact was not always so progressive if you look at everything he is chronicled to have said, and so on – so my interpretation of Jesus’ message simply could not be the case.
I agreed with pretty much everything he was saying on a purely factual level. But “facts” weren’t the whole story. My friend was speaking as if Christianity and Christians (and even Jesus Christ) were finite definable entities, and in that conversation, I was not seeing things this way. Reality is often much more complicated than a logical series of if-then postulates.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with having access to logical reasoning and using it. Logic and definition are essential tools for learning and understanding. But we should not make the mistake, either, of thinking that they are the only tools.
In the same way that some people cling to a religion or blind faith, there are quite a few people who cling to “facts” and “logic” also. These folks are no less narrow-minded in their steady devotion to facts; they refuse, or are unable, to see anything else. And that means they miss a whole lot.
The problem with “just facts” is that facts only deal with things that are completely known. For everything that we can know, there are thousands of things we don’t completely know – or even understand at all.
Agreement, not facts, is what actually rules the roost
So here’s the thing: you can talk facts all you want, but if those you talk to don’t listen to you in order to possibly agree with you, the point is moot. Your facts do not generalize to others – they stay ‘your’ facts. And that is a very subjective thing.
On the other side of the issue, when people come to an agreement on a similar train of thought, it often doesn’t matter if science or logic disproves what they think. They continue to think it, and often, through their [implicit] collective agreement to believe in a specific idea, they become the biggest fact of all.
This agreement is a powerful thing. Because even if you are logically or scientifically right about something, it makes little difference unless you have the ears and agreement of others. And besides, remember this: every fact is at some point susceptible to being changed. Physicists once thought that Newton’s laws of motion were constant everywhere; then Einstein’s theories of relativity changed that. I remember a time when “high cholesterol” was thought to be universally bad; now we say it could be good, as long as its the HDL type that’s higher, and the LDL type is not. Who knows when these widely accepted “facts” will change again?
Facts are inseparable from the purposes they serve
Ever notice how, in every debate, both sides have their own set of facts? Sometimes, they can even agree on a lot of them. For example, if there is an economic recession somewhere, few people are going to dispute a fact like “the job market is shrinking” or “unemployment is rising” no matter what solution they offer. These facts support pretty much everybody’s narrative. But lo and behold, once a fact does not support what you want to say, hey! It’s no longer true! Or, even if one doesn’t claim it’s completely false, still – other facts are played up over and above the ones that don’t suit the narrative.
If all you are doing is playful debating, this is quite fine; however, when things get more serious and high-tension disagreements fill the air, crossing ‘facts’ with somebody becomes a complete waste of time, and simply using ‘facts’ for the purpose of supporting your arguments and getting your way is immature and self-serving. It adds nothing new to the discussion.
Facts we can agree on
Deadlocks get broken, in both political and personal spaces, when people figure out what they agree on and work from there. At some point, somebody sees the supremacy of the moment’s reality over “facts.” Now, what you believe is not most important; rather, it’s what we all believe at this moment.
I just wish more people could see this sooner. It would save us a lot of drama, don’t you think?
In order to get there, the best thing we can do when there is this impasse of different beliefs and points of view is to repeatedly ask: where are they coming from? Since beliefs are based on goals, the goal actually makes the belief (even if you hold beliefs that seem counter to your goals, you still hold the goal of honestly seeing how things are in spite of how you want them to be, which underpins those beliefs you have). And since the goal makes the belief, the goals others have are the key to understanding them and reaching common ground.
Driving home a point has its place, especially when you feel strongly about something and those around you don’t have a strong opinion – then you are not pushing against other people’s already established beliefs and values. But when somebody does challenge you, pushing back is often wasted energy. The positive thinker sees the value in listening and learning a perspective foreign to them – a way of thinking they don’t already know – and expanding their understanding. When you take this approach, discussions with others begin to have so much more to offer everyone involved.
There is so much to learn out there!
Yet so many people have been taught that this doesn’t matter. That the comfort of what they know outweighs the marvel of what they hide themselves from. But if you look at things from this angle – that for everything you know, there are millions of things you don’t know – you can never run out of room to learn and grow. Nothing “just is,” even if, at any given moment, we can’t / don’t wish to find a reason for why something is and become content to say that “it just is.” The frontiers of reality are limitless – way greater and more vast than our puny “facts” and “beliefs.” Let’s enjoy that vastness as much as we can!