I have been in intellectual conflict with many people in my life and sometimes it can be downright frustrating! I have noticed in all my interactions with others that people are reasoning from one of two perspectives: reasoning based on knowledge or reasoning based on wisdom.
The culture in which I was raised (the United States) seems to be a culture that predominantly values reasoning based on knowledge. We see this in law, science, engineering and religion. In law, we demand definitive knowledge and facts in order to determine if we should convict or acquit. In science and engineering, knowledge and facts determine what is and is not possible. In religion, the knowledge of accepted interpretations of scripture determines what is right and what is wrong.
The other form of reasoning is from a place of wisdom. This viewpoint is aware of facts, but it is also aware of a bigger picture. Choices have consequences because the bigger picture reveals a connection between all of life. This is the compassion perspective that is not quick to judge (unlike reasoning based on knowledge), nor is it quick to apply knowledge without forethought. Above all, it does not blindly accept the written word at face value. Reasoning based on wisdom is a totally different way of thinking from what traditional western culture normally employs.
Yet, two different ways of thinking are not required in order to have a debate with another. I have found that heated disputes occur when at least one party reasons based on knowledge. I think that this has to do with an underlying craving to be “right.” After all, to be right is to be loved and accepted…or so the belief goes. Because a person reasoning from knowledge feels separate from his adversary, he need only concern himself with making his case so that the other will “see the light” and support and love him. It does not matter so much how he wins the argument. What does matter is that he wins the argument because if he doesn’t, he is deemed “wrong” and loses out on the ultimate prize–love and acceptance.
Winning and losing as well as being right or wrong are meaningless to those who reason from a place of wisdom. When you are connected to the person with whom you are engaged in discussion, why on earth would you want to defeat that person? If you are aware of a bigger picture, how could you claim that you are right and the other person is wrong when rightness and wrongness is a simple matter of perspective? As a result, when two participants are reasoning from wisdom, both recognize their connection to each other and therefore, quarrels do not occur. This does not mean that differences do not exist and resolutions are always arrived at. Sometimes solutions require time as each side slowly assimilates what has been learned during the interaction with each other. Those who are wise recognize the power of being uncertain and are quite comfortable in not knowing.
Not knowing, in this sense, is different from being ignorant. One displays ignorance when interacting with another when one is paying no attention to some aspect of what is being discussed or its context, be it the bigger picture or the background of the other person. Not knowing, on the other hand, is being uncertain, and interestingly opens one up to possibilities that tend to be missed by those who are certain in their knowledge. If you are certain that a person is guilty of a crime, why bother gathering facts at the scene of the crime? If you are certain that a certain technology is harmless, why bother testing it? If you are certain of the meaning of a sacred text, why not simply follow it to the letter without further study and contemplation? It is obvious that deep down, we all know that nothing is black and white and that mistakes and misunderstandings do occur and that solutions beyond our current imaginations are possible. Thus, we all have a part of us that is wise, if only we allow ourselves to listen to it regularly!
Having the ability to act wisely does not guarantee a life free of troubles. We must put this wisdom to use regularly. Otherwise, we open ourselves to be manipulated by others in a way that can be summarized by the following:
The easiest people to fool are those who know; the hardest people to fool are those who don’t know.
This is true because some of what we think of as facts or truth is not facts or truth at all, but merely theories or accepted beliefs. As long as people fail to recognize that a particular idea is just a belief or a theory, they can easily be led through a line of reasoning that convinces them to conclude that what would otherwise be seen as false is true and what would otherwise be seen as true is false! On the other hand, when you acknowledge that don’t know something, you open yourself up to seeing things from a fresh perspective, untarnished by collective biases and nefarious manipulative techniques.
A person free from manipulation is a person free to be authentic and free to truly enhance the world we live in. In writing this article, I am reminded of verse 71 of the Dao De Jing. Here is my current translation of it:
One who knows what he does not know is a superior man.
One who does not know what he knows is sick.
If one truly consents to be sick of being sick, this is the reason he is not sick.
If a saintly person is not sick, it is because he is sick of being sick; this is the reason he is not sick.