Thinking

Isn't thinking - particularly abstract thinking - what they said separates us from the animals. Some might dispute that, but until we know what animals are thinking (those who've watched a pet hovering near a fridge might say we do), thinking is essentially a human thing. That's not saying animals don't think, and some even seem to have a level of self awareness - but for this piece I'm referring to thinking as we know it in a human context.

Thinking without communication stays solely with the thinker. And by communication I mean a two-way dialogue. A teenager might be said to communicate with a grunt - but communication generally requires two-way effort. The military and others work on command-based communication, but that is an exception (and evidence might suggest that it's not always optimal).

If effective thinking requires effective communication, what makes communication effective? I'm definitely not an expert at communication - far from it. Even when my ideas are later shown to be right (and it has happened at times), I've been shown so many times to communicate ineffectively. Being right is only one part of the equation. But I suggest the major key is listening - real listening by all parties. That's why politics is largely ineffective.

Feedback and discussion are often required so we're all talking the same "language" before we can discuss the issue. So many arguments are basically a complete waste of time, because the parties are not first listening to and understanding each other. This is so bad today that when I detect it, I generally withdraw from the discussion. We can't communicate if we're not hearing each other.

Interestingly this was first bought home by people who are amongst the most opinionated (as a group) people I've ever met. (Admittedly I don't know any politicians.) But despite strongly held and divergent views, I've never felt so much part of conversation at any other time. Much of my attitude to listening and learning came from that experience (which lasted several years). And the disagreements covered a wide range of areas, involving both secular and Christian people, and dealing with bureaucrats and occasionally politicians. I look back on that time and only now appreciate just how much it did for me.

Now I love a good argument - and they have at times helped me to understand things in a new light. But I simply don't have the time and energy to waste on discussions which are really just people putting their views and ignoring what others say. The same applies when the debate moves off the topic, especially when it becomes an attack on the other people. In fact when I hear an argument degenerating into personal attacks, my first thought is they've conceded they can't win the argument on facts.

When I googled the word argue it said to give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one's view. However it also gave a second definition: exchange or express diverging or opposite views, typically in a heated or angry way. When I use the word argue in this article I want to be clear that I am meaning the first definition - not the second.

Even within that definition, arguments can sound heated or angry. Some of us are more naturally emotive in everything we do - others are more phlegmatic. What I am getting at is arguing involves dialogue - which in turn involves both listening and reasoning. Bad language and attacking the person rather than the message are two signs that an argument is leaving the realms of reason and becoming emotional. Strong expression of views, accompanied by listening is positive - at least to some of us.

It can be difficult to tell the difference. A phlegmatic person tends to perceive emotional discussion as heated, and maybe to be avoided. Whereas it is taking me a long time and a lot of effort to try and sound calmer.

But no matter your thoughts, they can only remain yours if you cannot regard others as peers on the same journey through life.

Last Modified

Last modified: 05 December 2020.