Public opinion and critical thinking

The light on my phone began flashing while I was in an online conference. Voice mail.

Voice mail is the ultimate game of office tag. I think that’s the reason that my stomach churns a bit when I see that light flashing. I know that the message waiting for me will, in all likelihood, obligate me to some action.

When my conference was over, I turned to my phone and the ritual that retrieves messages. Hoping for an announcement of some great financial windfall or that I had won a fabulous vacation, I listened intently. No money nor cabin on a lake were in my future.

A local newspaper reporter was requesting a short interview for a story he was preparing about some pending legislation in Austin. As the message continued, I rolled through several semi-connected and quasi-logical thoughts.

  1. He’s called me by mistake.
  2. Because I have not researched the statute nor the underlying research, I am not really qualified to give an opinion.
  3. But, I actually do have an opinion on this issue after thinking about the effects of the bill and weighing the costs on each side.
  4. To my dismay, my opinion is apparently in opposition to my historic political leanings.
  5. I have friends who might be surprised at my opinion.
  6. The safest thing would be to decline the interview.

I punched in the numbers to return the call. Three rings. Then, voice mail. The perfect opportunity to win this game of tag.

I carefully explained to the reporter’s machine that I really was not worthy of an interview. My plan was to hang-up with that announcement. Yet, I had a sudden urge to express myself. After a minute of stumbling over my words, I promised that I would call again after lunch.

And I did. The reporter was gracious. I gave him my opinion. The story ran this morning and, to my relief, I learned that the reporter was also a gracious editor. I sounded vaguely coherent.

Now an opinion is only an opinion. If you disagree with me, that’s all right — because an opinion is only one side of a conversation. I cannot force you to adopt my stance on the issue nor should I have that expectation. But I can enter the conversation and thereby invite you to join.

Hopefully, we will all take our places in conversations with an openness not only to the words of others, but to the new understanding we gain by engaging in the process.

I’m on record with my belief that public debate is worthless. I believe that because of the way that politicians and other activists conduct that activity. However, public conversation, recognizable by the underlying element of true critical thinking, is priceless.

What’s your opinion?

photo courtesy of Sanja Gjenero at stock.xchng

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2 thoughts on “Public opinion and critical thinking

  1. Public conversation, recognizable by the underlying element of true critical thinking, is greatly needed, in my opinion. I refuse to participate or support with my spending those that shout the competition down, make light of others beliefs and attacking the patriotism (and even the citizen ship) of their opponents. I have committed to stop spreading the ridicule of those that believe differently from me, and to give myself an oppurtunity to listen. That doesn’t mean I have to be assaulted verbally.

    I have a postit in my office that reads, “Strong and bitter words indicate a weak cause.” Victor Hugo

  2. After I posted this, another friend of mine took the time to track the newspaper article down online, read it, and then to email me. He disagreed with my position on the legislation. Yet, because he’s an upstanding person, he took time to acknowledge both sides of the issue and then to explain his reasoning. A true conversation and one I learned from. And no, Andy, I haven’t changed my mind. But I would be glad to talk with you anytime about anything. Thank you!

    And Dave, I join your cause . . . I am weary of the personal and, for the most part, irrelevant attacks — even against those I disagree with. In conflict resolution, we remind people to attack the problem, not the person.