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Fighting Intellectual Complacency

Thomas Whitley

Yesterday I wrote:

It means that we, the self-professed intellectuals, never become complacent with our own knowledge and that we continue to grow and change and learn so that we can make our world a better place by becoming ourselves better people.

Today I thought I'd share with you a few ways I actively work against complacency when it comes my knowledge/education/intellect.

1. I have numerous sources of information I watch, read, and listen to news sources that run the gamut from conservative to liberal and most things in between. I do not allow one news outlet to solely inform my view on any one topic.

Similarly, when it comes to religion and related topics, since that is what I spend most of my time thinking about, reading about, writing about, etc. I seek out multiple and varied voices. One opinion does not a consensus make and neither does it make one informed. I have been around the proverbial block long enough to realize that there are often many sides to every story, each with its own specific nuances and intents. If I want to truly learn about something I have to do the leg work and weigh each voice, perspective, opinion, theory that I get. Only after evaluating the sources and the information can I begin to form balanced and knowledgable thoughts about the issue, whatever it may be.

When I was writing my masters thesis I had to devote an entire chapter to a "history of research." The sole purpose of the chapter was to show that I was familiar with all of the research that had been done in my area before me and that I understood it and the implications it would have for my research. Truth be known, though the rest of the thesis wasn't specifically called a "history of research" it was much the same. I had, at best, one chapter that contained "original" ideas of my own. The point of the exercise is not for a student to write down some "original" idea that happened upon him/her but to closely and carefully examine an array of voices and allow those voices to speak in concert with my voice so that the result would be a cogently argued work that appropriately listened to and took into account the views, ideas, and work of others.

2. I read a lot This is closely related to #1, but I want to get a bit more specific. Seeking out multiple sources of information on a topic is not something we can do once and forget it. It is hard work and it means that a good portion of my time is spent reading articles, essays, OpEds, and books. Some of which I know going into it I will probably agree with and some of which I know I will probably disagree with, but I still read them, and I do it on a regular basis, because I believe it is important to continuously and regularly challenge myself and my assumptions.

3. I go to school I realize that we cannot all have this luxury but one of the many benefits of being a student is the constant exposure to new ideas. So much of who I am today - the beliefs I hold, the convictions that shape me, the theories to which I subscribe - is a direct result of my involvement in some sort of educational process, be it formal or informal.

4. I listen Perhaps this should have been #1. I have a lot of opinions, many of which I hold very strongly and most of which I believe are backed up by solid facts, but that does not mean that I am the sole bearer of truth or that I am the only one that has anything worth saying. I may not always agree with what I listen to, be it on a newscast, in an editorial, or in a conversation, but I do always listen. Often I hear a nuanced perspective that I had not heard before and I end up learning something.

5 I know that I may be wrong Finally, in all of it I fully realize the very real possibility that I may be wrong. That doesn't mean I maintain beliefs or views that I currently think are wrong. To be sure, I hold the current beliefs and views that I do for what I believe to be very good reasons. It does mean, though, that I don't think for a second that I have arrived at some pinnacle of knowledge and will never need to learn anything else again or have any questions asked of my views because I have found "truth."

The views that I hold today on almost every aspect of life (religion, politics, family, economics, marriage, education, social issues, cooking, etc.) has changed at least slightly in the past few years, some have changed drastically. There is always more to learn, more to know, more to experience, more life to live. I intend not to stop learning, experiencing, and living until I can no longer. I am not so arrogant as to think that at 26 I have all the ("right") answers. What a waste of a life to have "arrived" at the "right" beliefs, ideas, views, perspectives so early in life never to be reexamined.

Didn't some famous guy once say something about living life and living it to the fullest? Striving to never become complacent in our knowledge and intellect is part of how I do that every day.

To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we cannot happily remain ignorant forever.