As someone who teaches Critical Reasoning, I have a lot of time to reflect on how people think and how they come to have the beliefs they have. One thing that is clear to me is that it is a basic part of being alive and healthy to think that the things you believe are, for the most part, true. Also, just as a fact about human nature, most people really are out to do what they think is best in the context they are inĖthe best for their families, their communities, and so on. So I really do think most of us are pretty much the same from the inside looking outĖeach of us has a bunch of beliefs we are sure of, including our beliefs about what we ought to do for the future of Montevallo, and each of us thinks our viewpoint is the right one.
But what about the people who disagree with us? Psychological studies show definitively that when we are confronted with an opposing viewpoint we do not ignore it. As a rule, we examine it very closely and find reasons to reject it in favor of our pre-existing viewpoint. The problem is that we never examine our pre-existing viewpoint with as much rigor and care as we do the viewpoints of our opponents. It is not that any of us is lacking in critical skill or good will, it is that we selectively critique views other than our own and are left with the view that our opinions are the only sound ones.
This is when things get ugly. When we consistently reject opposing views, we tend to look for reasons that these views still exist in others, and we generally decide that the people who disagree with us are stupid, malevolent or personally biased against us. In my experience, this is simply not the case. I just have to believe, for the sake of my sanity, that other people have reasons for their beliefs and actions that seems as good to them as my reasons seem to me. I canít really believe that I and others who agree with me are the lone islands of rationality and good will in a sea of malevolence and madness. After all, each of us has changed his or her mind in the past, even about things we were very sure of, after talking for long enough with others we respected and after hearing all the reasons they had for their position. It is always surprising to change oneís mind, but it is most commonly rewarding and liberating to some degree.
All of this leads me to the main reasons I was disappointed with the tone and procedures of Monday nightís meeting: (1) Input from the crowd was seemingly discouraged, both by the strict enforcement of the arbitrary two-minute rule (a rule which was enforced when the standing rules were suspended time and again for other issues later in the meeting) and the push to move on and close discussion; and (2) the disagreements seemed to be taken personally by several people. I think the first of these led to the other, but whatever the cause, once we personalize these civic debates, progress or even consensus seems a remote possibility.
Perhaps it is inevitable that all such discussions devolve in to a series of personal attacks. I hope not. It is even more probable that many of you will think what I am saying is hopelessly naive. Maybe so. But I canít see any other way of proceeding in such a forum except by assuming that everyone is rational and that we all have the best interests of Montevallo at heart, no matter how different our visions of the best future.
If I am right, what we need is discussion that is not arbitrarily cut short and that is not seen as an attack on one person or anotherís character. We need to talk with one another until we all see why we take the stands we do. Until this happens, I think weíll go nowhere.
If I am wrong, heaven help us. We donít stand a chance.