Criticism is one of the best ways to validate our ideas. In order for us to truly develop an idea to it’s logical conclusion we must expose that idea to criticism and even argument. But most of us have many ways we avoid sharing a dialog over our ideas. The most common things we say when we either know our idea is flawed, or are unwilling to expose it to any more criticism look something like this:
- “My parents raised me to believe X…”
- “I was brought up to believe X…”
- “X feels right to me…”
- “That’s just what I think…”
- “Well that’s my philosophy…”
- “You can’t talk, you believe X!”
- Or any criticism of you personally or an idea you have that is off topic.
These are all things we do subconsciously that divert attention from the current idea being discussed. If you are in conversation with someone and they are trying to convince you the earth is flat and you point out one of the many possible flaws in their argument that causes them to retaliate with “You’re an idiot if you think the earth is round. You’re a sheep!” they have successfully shown that their idea is not up for criticism, which is the only way for us to find out if an idea is sound.
Darwin’s theory of evolution has been up for criticism and debate since it’s publication in 1859 (possibly earlier). This idea has been exposed to more criticism and debate than any other idea I can think of. Yet despite this the idea has not only increased in validity but it is almost unanimously considered a fact now. The more criticism that Darwin’s theory has received the more answers we have found. The more modern our technology the more we confirm the theory of evolution. Early criticisers of Darwin’s theory said that there would need to be some sort of fossil record to show different stages of evolutions. These were found and we keep finding more, and not just for our own species! Now we have DNA technology that continues to prove Darwin’s theory.
A good idea will face far more criticism and debate than any bad idea because a bad idea cannot withstand criticism for long before it falls apart entirely and is forgotten. This is what makes a good idea like Darwin’s so beautiful. And this is why we must catch ourselves using excuses to avoid having people spotlight our ideas. We can never truly develop a well thought out and refined idea without explicitly exposing it for all to see, discuss and debate over. This dialog, the dialectic, is one of the most fundamental tools when it comes to developing good ideas. This is also one reason why Plato and his dialogs are still so influential today. The dialog over ideas is timeless and along being a tool for sharpening our ideas there is also the cathartic experience of having your ideas destroyed and your mind changed in mid dialog with another. Letting go of a bad idea is often a liberating experience because we cling to our ideas even if they hurt our own happiness and wellbeing.
It will not be possible to point out every person’s attempt to avoid criticism that you talk to. Many people respond to having their ideas exposed as though you have been intentionally rude to them. This is called strawmanning. It is when one person intentionally misrepresents an idea or something another has said. For example, person A might say ,“I was raised to believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman” and you might kindly ask them, “Is being raised to believe something a very good indicator of how correct or good that belief actually is?” to which person A responds, “So you’re saying I have bad parents?”. As we can see person A has misrepresented you because it’s easier to argue against the idea that their parents were bad then it is to argue that how we were raised is a good indictor or how true something is.
There are many ways we can use the Socratic questioning technique to keep borrowing down into someone’s beliefs and really find out why they believe what they do and show them why their belief has no foundation in the truth. But this only works with people who are willing to engage in dialog without emotion in the first place. In the past I was notorious for questioning any statement a person might have made if I thought they had never truly thought it through. Naturally this annoyed many of my peers but I learned that we all avoid criticism to some extent. All of us share deeply held beliefs that are not up for discussion regardless of the logic, or lack thereof, behind them. Seeing when a person is trying to avoid having their ideas talked about is actually a good way to know what beliefs a person holds deeper than others. This is because beliefs that are not deeply held will not affect the person emotionally if they are shown to be invalid; the deeply held ones will. But why even point out when a person is avoiding criticism of their ideas? Because most of us want to believe what is true. In fact, most of us think what we believe currently is true. There is a value on truth, fact and honestly that the majority of us share. Yet the majority of all of our beliefs have had little to no thought before we are sharing them with others like they are fact. This is why when a friend says, “I just feel like dreamcatchers work” the simple response of, “Is how one feels a good way for us to gauge the truth of a claim?” instantly forces people to admit that it cannot be, and that although dreamcatchers are beautiful, how we feel, how we were raised and what our religion is, are not good lenses to view the world through if we want to have justified beliefs about it.