While teaching for a private college some years ago, I was privileged to teach the philosophy class. A single class was all that was offered, and the intention of the class, stated in the catalogue, was to introduce students to the basics of Aristotelian reasoning and its place in modern thought, to provide an introduction to formal and informal fallacies and the like. With the permission of the administration, and the students, we expanded the course to do two other things. The first was to take the ideas presented and tie them to practical decision making situations, situations that students would find themselves faced with on a daily basis. The second was to begin reading some of the philosophical writers of the twentieth century.
The class was an amazing experience, and it became a highlight of my time at the college. It continues to be a high water mark in my own life experience. Some of the students told me that it was the same for them.
Perhaps part of the reason is found in the beginning of the class, as we sought to define philosophy. While semantically philosophy can be described as the wisdom of man, and while the dictionary defines philosophy in terms of grappling with questions of knowing, we allowed the definition to encompass the basic approach we take to life. We began to discuss philosophy as the principles that guide our behavior, and the study of how those principles become so powerful.
Invariably, this type of discussion causes people to bump up against deeply held beliefs. College students, like most people who are still forming views of society, struggle with the ambiguity of multiple points of view being allowed to influence a single discussion, so it was hard for them to deal with this part of the process. In getting past this I asked a few questions.
First, I asked them to take some time to write down what experiences led them to accept the world view (philosophy) that they currently adopted.
Next, I asked them to think about why others might struggle with their choice, and how they could respectfully explain their choice without disparaging another’s choices.
Eventually I asked them to think about the similarities they found in philosophies other than the one they ascribed to.
It was a good experience. It taught them that standing for something is not always about convincing someone else that the way you see things is right. Sometimes, standing for what you believe in must include allowing someone else to stand for something different.
I would hope that my children would learn that standing for something is critical, but that allowing others to stand for other things is appropriate too, and that the best way to stand for what they believe is to listen to others without backing down and without feeling threatened, but just with a mindset toward understanding.
Ultimately, we all want the same four things. Our various philosophies give us boundaries for determining whether or not we are pursuing those things wisely. As you stand for yours, especially during the election season, remember that respectful disagreement can only happen after honest listening.
And an individual who can truly listen is one who is worth listening to when he or she takes a stand.