what the world needs now is logic, sweet logic

Democracy gives all a voice, but what if the majority follows a voice that is heavy on volume but light on reason? How can we inject basic reason into dialogue, whether the everyday or on the national and global stage?

Hubby and I recently spent an enjoyable evening with my nephew and some of his late-twenty-something friends. It was an energizing back and forth of ideas and experiences. At one point, while discussing a certain Republican Presidential Nominee to the south of us, I made a proposal.

If more people were educated in the basic fundamentals of logic, then fewer people would be sucked in to support irrational leaders. My suggestion? Make Introductory Logic a compulsory course in high schools, colleges and universities. This basic, practical and immensely valuable field of study should not longer be an option.

I loved the intellectual challenge of mind-stretching academic courses, but the most practical course I took in high school was Typing 101. It was a class usually taken by those on the vocational track, future secretaries and clerks. I can’t remember why I took it, but I loved it. Sr. Edith Clare was a friendly drill master, determined to teach us speed and accuracy. I embraced the challenge and developed both.

When I began university, term papers were still hand-written. Few intellectuals wasted their time on type-writing skills. I banged out my work on a manual Underwood, proud of the professional look of my very mediocre papers.

With the coming of computers, typing skills proved even more valuable. No Mavis Beacon for me. Typing morphed into key-boarding, and my flying fingers still ruled.

I didn’t finish my degree until after the birth of my fifth child. My first courses as a distance student were Intro to Philosophy and Intro to Logic. Again, I don’t know why I took them, but they ended up being my most valuable and practical courses in all further studies.

When heady philosophical theories tied my brain in knots (a frequent occurrence), I picked up my Logic text-book and began solving Boolean equations, or spotting the fallacies in sample arguments. I loved the beauty of balancing values, proving them true or false.

Learning basic logic became an invaluable tool in my reading and writing. Whether for course work or blogging, I’m constantly nagged by a voice in my head that questions and challenges the words on the paper or screen; whether mine or others.

Philosophical reasoning and logic joined my high school Typing class in practicality. What some people consider light-weight “artsy fartsy” studies, actually teach the most basic, the most practical skill needed in today’s society.

How do you use reason to think clearly, judge wisely, and speak as truthfully as possible? Truth is not truth because you think or feel that it is. Truth must be proved.

When basic rules of discourse are ignored, dialogue becomes impossible. For example…

Instead of responding to a statement, one attacks the person. Trump is the master of the ad hominem argument. In primary debates and now in the presidential race, his preferred mode of response is to hurl names at his opponents. Dare to question or criticize him? Be prepared for the slings and arrows of his outrageous bullying. But, don’t expect any solid evidence for his outrageous statements.

Today’s media inundates us with news stories around the clock. Having a basic grasp of logical reasoning can help to filter through the morass of biased or unsubstantiated resources. Do the premises presented in an article or news report support the conclusion stated in the headlines? Where is the proof for the truth claims? Is the article presented as an objective reporting of facts, or an opinion piece?

Knowing the difference between fact and opinion is crucial in discerning the truth value of a statement or argument.

Discussion boards and letters to the editor are great exercises in honing reasoning skills. The next time you see an online discussion dissolve into a fight fest, try to spot the moment when dialogue ended. Was it a mean-spirited comment attacking the person? Was it an assumption that if the writer believes A, then he or she also believes B, C, D and more? Was it simply a statement that had nothing at all to do with the issue at hand, trying to high-jack the discussion to focus on one’s own agenda?

Promoting an understanding of basic concepts of logical reasoning can provide the tools necessary for wise discernment in a democratic society, making it much harder for irrational fools to gain or maintain power.


when silence is not golden

Dialogue respects diversity and never demands uniformity of thought. At it’s best, dialogue is a lively interchange of ideas, opening our minds and hearts to new thoughts. Our ideological perspective is tested, perhaps nudging us to tentatively turn a few degrees to the right or left of long-held assumptions.

Silence is an important part of dialogue. Silence is a gift of conversational space, given to the other so thoughts may be shared without interruption. Silence also allows us to listen well, in order to speak well.

For me, a good dialogue is energizing. Aggressive, verbal sparring, on the other hand, leaves me drained and depressed. My modus operandi in the face of confrontation is to shut up and shut down.

I’ve learned to stay clear from online bullies and trolls. (Ok, it’s easy to avoid both when you haven’t been writing much!) We can’t always avoid the everyday, conversational bullies. What if we aren’t given an opportunity to speak? What if we are so overwhelmed by an aggressive tone that we simply “clam up”? Is it better to be silent than to jump into what seems to be a useless argument? Is it better to simply tune out and let the person go on. And on. And on?

Silence is not always golden. Silence in the face of verbal aggression can feed the aggressor, leaving them free to boost their own ego by bullying and belittling others.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

For Trump, it seems, silence is a useless vacuum. An empty space begging to be filled with his unique brand of stream of consciousness rants. One gets the sense that he never stops to think before he speaks, or bothers to listen to anyone but himself. He got away with it, in large part, due to the silence handed to him on a silver platter by Republican leaders scared of the consequences of not endorsing a legitimately chosen nominee.

Sr. Joan Chittister, in an article for the National Catholic Reporter titled Leadership is Lacking in this Election Cycle, addresses the dangers of this silence,

The election caravan of crude and crushing comments moved merrily along while Republican after Republican climbed meekly aboard, most of them eyes down, and, most of all, silent…Instead of “I cannot endorse that statement of Donald Trump, this kind of name-calling, that kind of ignorance,” what the country has gotten is silence from the very leaders who are supposed to be safeguarding the level of democracy in this country. There is not an elementary school teacher in this country who would have tolerated this kind of talk on the school playground, not a high-school debate coach who would have allowed such abuse from any of their teams to go on uncorrected, uncensored.

Silence, in order to ponder or listen, is golden. Silence, for a bully, is a golden opportunity.

empathy, a qualification for president?

I’m still reading and digesting  Amoris Laetitia, and will begin writing some reflections as soon as I’m done. Spoiler alert….chapter 4 is brilliant! In the meantime, I came across an interesting story on CNN this morning that ties in with my recent post on empathy.

The CNN article is titled,  Who’s really qualified to be President? 11 takes. Many of the women and men giving their opinions in the article have had direct access to presidents or worked in high level governmental positions. What struck me was how many times empathy was listed as a necessary qualification for a President.

David Gergen, senior political analyst for CNN and a White House advisor to four presidents writes,

Empathy and appreciation of differences: In a world best characterized as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, our new President must have an ability to listen and work collaboratively with people of vastly different perspectives.

Anne-Marie Slaughter,president and CEO of New America and director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department from 2009 to 2011, believes that,

The qualifications that we should be looking for in a president—and I base this on my experience as a leader, a State Department official, and a citizen–are intelligence, grit, courage, empathy, and the ability to listen to what you don’t want to hear…Empathy is undervalued, but if a President cannot walk in the shoes of a citizen, an immigrant, or a human being half way around the world and feel what that person is feeling, s/he cannot lead in the way that people often yearn to be led.

Empathy is the only quality on Paul Begala’s list.

I believe empathy is the most important quality a president can have. This is an impossibly large, unimaginably diverse country. The ability to empathize with people of every race, religion, sexual orientation, region, generation, and ideology is critical. A president must be able to put herself — or himself — in the Guccis of foreign leaders, the cowboy boots of congressmen, the orthopedic shoes of the elderly, and the flip-flops of the young. Obviously brains help and rhetorical skills are a great asset, but for my money, empathy matters most.

Begala is a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator. He was a political consultant for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992 and a counselor to Clinton in the White House.

It doesn’t take a deep thinker to connect the dots of these reflections to a critique of a Donald Trump style of leadership. Trump’s rudeness and belligerence are obvious and easy to name.  Leaders without basic social graces and manners not only insult the people they serve, they are an embarrassment on the world stage.

Naming empathy  as a necessary qualification for a President points to an issue deeper than a nasty personality; an issue that can have far reaching consequences on both long term policies and critical moments when quick decisions are required. Empathy IS needed for a moral life and moral leaders are needed more than ever. Also needed are moral voters who can look beyond their own back-yard issues and vote for leaders who will work for peace, justice and good governance for all.