The roar of the falls silences the noise from the modern world as the river catches me up in the moment of tranquility. Here in this place where the turbulent flow sweeps through the mountains I can listen to my own thoughts. Among them I find a question. Does being correct give us the right to be arrogant? The question comes from more than one “conversation” on social media. At this point it doesn’t matter what was said, who was right or why. So many people look at a topic from their perspective only and in their own mind they won the debate simply because they made their point as they understood it. I’m not even going to look at weather or not “A” or “B” was correct. What I need to talk about is simply being a either a good sport or a gracious winner. It’s about treating the other side with respect and allowing them to maintain their dignity.
When I was in collage one of my Entomology instructors was really into live demonstrations. He was the kind of teacher that would bring a live specimen into the classroom and force us to figure out what kind of “Critter” it was. The insect was normally in larval form and didn’t look a thing like the pictures in the books. And the examination had to be a group effort and include a bit of debate. Young minds being full of ego these debates could get fairly vigorous at times but the intention was for to develop a sense of when we had consensus within the peer group. One time this lead to what could have been a knock down drag out fight. The instructor halt the class and brought a student to the front to help him with a demonstration. /he asked the student to place his hands up at chest level and the student obliged. then the instructor placed his palms directly on the student’s palms and stared into his face for a few minuets. The instructor began to push. Gently at first. The student resisted And the instructor commanded him to stop resisting. “I can’t help it”, the student protested. “It’s a reflex.” “But you agreed to help me with this demonstration!” the instructor continued as he pushed harder causing the student to resist harder. This went on for several minuets with commanding and protesting the actions. Eventually the instructor relented and sent the student back to his seat as he explained the point of the exercise. Which was that if you give resistance then you get resistance in response. And, that you can’t push someone into coming over to your side. You must win the person not the debate. Out of everything that I learned in that class this lesson has been the most useful to me. By treating people with respect & dignity we’ve been able to accomplish more as a society than we ever could by trying to overpower them. I’v also been able to avoid some really bad mistakes because that person who might have been alienated was there with their skills working towards a common goal.
As I look out over Kanawha Falls in awe of the power that spills over the rocks I realize that that power actually comes from two rivers that are flowing together upstream. Namely the Gauley River & the New River. Because they move with each other and not against each they are able to travel farther and accomplish more as one.
With the mental clutter pushed well away from my mind and the memory of such an important lesson brought up My answer to the question above isn’t so much yes or no but instead my answer comes as a firm no. No we do not have the right to claim arrogance because we happened to have the correct answer. the next time it could just as easy be the other person who has the answers & more than likely we needed each other to get the answer in the first place.
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8 thoughts on “Kanawha Falls & Some Thoughts On Civil Debate”
I… have to disagree. It’s too much of a generalised statement to state that everyone should be accorded with a degree of respect and civility. It depends on the argument and it depends on the two sides. If one side is being patronising and I’ve seen this with white men and women when it comes to matters and issues that people of colour face on a daily basis, even if they were unintentionally indulging in microaggressions, I still believe they’ve forfeited their right to respect and civility especially when they’ve had the resources to learn (book & education), but decided that because it doesn’t go beyond the white experience, it’s not going to be a worthwhile read. Really, just reading from the perspective of a person of colour who’s experienced racism and will continue to do so, they could have understood and not proceeded with whatever patronising argument they had. So, no. Not everyone deserves to be treated with respect if they perpetuate the cycle of racism. Being arrogant on arguments that will not serve any long-term purposes? On that count, arrogance is not necessary. Otherwise the whole love and peace mantra is nonsense because to achieve actual harmony you have to address harm.
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There’s no such thing as a magic bullet. There’s always going to be a person who’s mind is closed. People who are more interested in who’s right instead of what’s right. With that kind of person a debate is just a waste of time.
It’s true that I probably won’t ever fully understand the challenges that you face. I have had a coworker who went on a tirate about “dirty Injuns”. He didn’t realize that my Grandfather was half Native American. As was the lady who sat on the other side of him. ( she considers herself fully Blackfoot tribe ). Perhaps one day mankind will be able to fully appreciate the wisdom of Terence.
Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto… “I am human, I consider nothing human alien to me.”
Until then all we can do is give each other our best and hope that time truly does heal all wounds.
I love the way you’ve framed that – what’s right, not who’s right. I’ll try and remember that going forward.
I hope so too. I’m sorry that you and your colleague had to experience that. Out of curiousity, what happened to your colleague who expressed such… horrible sentiments? I’ve been mostly sheltered but it’s only in the past few years that I’ve witnessed the horror on a few peoples faces when I tell them I’m Muslim, it makes me feel crap!
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He passed away from cancer not long after that. It was 14 years ago. His wife worked there as well and she was a wonderful person. For the most part, I wasn’t as much offended as I was sad for him. He wasn’t really a bad person. He was just ignorant and a victim of bad upbringing.
I try not to allow people like that to “live rent free in my head.” I avoid them when possible. I forgive them when I can’t avoid them. And I forget about anything that doesn’t effect me after they’re gone so that I can move on and enjoy whatever opportunity for happiness comes my way. Life is too short to spend it in anger.
I disagree that he’s not a ‘bad’ person. I mean I am torn, but the attitude he adopted is the reason why so many Native Americans suffered… it’s also the attitude that many islamophobic people hold towards Muslims and lives are being lost because of ignorance. I cannot as a Muslim person afford to love and peace it all considering that my brothers and sisters in Islam are targeted and are murdered because of their ignorance. I tried to love and peace it with a specific person who was incredibly disrespectful and ignorant towards my people and do you know what happened? She took advantage it and laid the blame at my feet for her failure (a responsibility that was solely her own). Life is too short for my people because they are killed as a result of their islamophobia. It needs to be addressed and they need to be called out. Then they will finally learn.
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But how do change a heart and fight against it at the same time? In truth, it was the friendship of Muslims that made me see that not all are out to get me. Just like not all Christians are crusaders.
I think that’s the difference between you and the person I’m mentioning Lloyd. Your Muslim friends offered friendship, you offered friendship and peace was made. However, not every person is built like that. I can show them kindness, and be civil, but it is not my absolute duty to dedicate my entire being into showing them that Muslims are friendly. If it helps, she also tried to get me to empathise with Hitler. If she can’t sympathise with the 3 million Jewish people who were massacred, how am I able to change her perception. I showed her kindness, she took advantage of it and got me into trouble for something she failed to do thereafter. If she can’t hold Hitler accountable for the millions of Jewish lives massacred, how is she going to hold herself accountable for her prejudice? Only God can deal with her now because Lord knows that I am done.
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Oh, I see. That person was more than just ignorant. Karma has a way of catching up with people like that.
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