Controversy for Progress

Do you want to make the world a more peaceful? Have more discussion, not less. Have more controversy, not less. Similar to teaching a young person to drink moderately, rather than teaching them to embrace abstinence, wrestling with controversial subject matter is a must for an intelligent and free person. It is better for the person, and better for the society.

Consider this quote from Tolstoy:

“If everyone made war only according to his own convictions, there would be no war.” Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, Page 25

Basic assumptions

  1. Some problems are properly solved intellectually, rationally, and voluntary (almost everything important)

2. Some problems solved with violence (some break into your house, attacks you, invades your country, etc)

3. Moral and intellectual virtues are like muscles, with practice they are developed, with disuse, they atrophy.

Ground Rules for Rational Discussion:

  • No fallacies (no irrelevant attacks, but focus on the argument at hand; see my articles on Fallacies here, here, )
  • Respect for Truth and Right (see my article Rational Discussion)
  • Respect for the Other Members of the Discussion

Negatives of avoiding controversy

  • Avoiding controversy atrophies your own convictions.
  • Avoiding controversy is itself a statement of relevance (something that can be compartmentalized into another part of your life, means that you are not willing to confront the ill effects of taking a public stand)
  • Avoiding controversy allows for collecting false friends and superficial associations (think of Aristotle’s analysis of Friendship, based on Utility, Pleasure, Goodness)

Positives of regularly confronting controversy

  • If you can be the person that confronts controversy, then you can be a leader, and a force for good (leaders confront controversial issues)
  • If you’re regularly investing in dealing with substantial matters, then the superficial matters are getting less attention
  • If you develop your intellect and your moral courage, then you are encouraging all those around you to be better people (wrestling with controversy does just that)
  • Positively changes your investment of time and energy (think about when people compare the salary of NBA stars to teachers, or soldiers, and some lament that the stars should get less; with a bit of economics in mind, in a free market, people who support the sport, vote with their dollar to give players raises. When you devote your time and money to being more intelligent, well-spoken, and positively-influential, then you’re investing in education)

What can you do to help develop yourself and others

  • Organize your thoughts on controversial matters
  • Understand the moral and rational implications of moral and rational thought: the implications actually matter- meaning, if you find that one of your core beliefs is wrong, than you are obligated to modify your beliefs; if you find that your lifestyle is wrong, than you are obligated to change your lifestyle (if you aren’t willing to do that, are you a person of integrity at all?)

Homework for your personal growth

  • Make a list of controversial issues that are live today
  • Articulate in writing what you think on them
  • Expose the argument that you think is compelling in front of others (be respectful, though)
  • If you don’t feel comfortable talking about these things, in front of your friends, family, coworkers, ask yourself why this is the case.
  • Explore these topics: God, Economic Theory, Abortion, Racism, Gun Rights, Euthanasia, Charity vs Taxed Welfare, Socialism vs Capitalism

Great websites along similar lines:

What Would You Suffer For?

High-Value Test: What are you willing to suffer for, with dignity?

Question One: What are you willing to suffer for?

Question Two: What is more important continual suffering, sweat, and sacrifice?

Question Three: Why do you gladly suffer and fight, when others quit, cut-corners, and complain? 

This will clue you into what your vision of life is.  What is your motivating ‘why’? This defines you as a person, and as a leader.

To quote Nietzsche, “if you have a ‘why’ you can survive of almost any ‘how’. 

Twilight of the Idols (1889), section: ‘Maxims and Arrows’)

“In some ways, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment, it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

Viktor Frankl

Just as everybody is a leader of some sort, everybody has a vision of life, of some sort too. And these to aspects are related.

But some leaders are ineffective, and some leaders influence people in the wrong direction. Hitler was an effective influencer, but evil, for instance. 

If you want to be a good leader, even a good person, you need to know what your ‘vision of life’ is.

You probably don’t want to drop everything you’re doing and start studying history, philosophy, and theology.

Are there some shortcuts? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that you can wrestle with telling questions that reveal things about yourself. No, in the sense that such revelations don’t remove the necessary soul-searching and contemplation in order to discover, what you do believe, should believe, and can believe.

Yet, there are such things that I’d call ‘high-value’ tests. For instance, a way that you can see what you think is materially valuable might be to imagine that you discover your house is on fire. What do you grab first? For instance, if you grabbed your cat, and ignored your children…well…that would quite concerning. Regardless, this thought experiment allows you to consider what is truly valuable, though not exactly in a material sense.

In the context of leadership, consider the fact that great leaders can transform meaningless drudgery into meaningful and inspirational activity…but this is only possible…if one has a great vision of life. 

To this end, ask yourself this question: “What will you suffer with dignity for?” Your answer will be revealing. If you are not willing to suffer for anything good, then you clearly have nothing to lead with. If you only have petty or small aims, then only petty and small sacrifices are the limit of your influence. 

But if you have a grand vision, of what is great, and noble, and wonderous, as well as a clear idea of what is wrong (the obstacles of the vision), then you might have a suitable vision of life that can justify getting through the low points of life, and work, etc. 

Living an admirable life requires us to work through suffering. Leadership requires navigation through suffering preeminently. Those that follow look to you as a lighthouse for guidance. Do you have any light to give?

Stories to Check Out:

Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning

Consider great trials, and the heroic persons that went through them (and why):

  • Saint Patrick of Ireland, who went back to his slave-captors to share the gospel with them. See my article here.
  • Socrates, who drank the Hemlock, since it was somehow unjust to escape the lawful punishment of the court. He thought it was better to suffer injustice, rather than commit an injustice himself.
  • Saint Thomas More, who died at the behest of King Henry VIII of England, because he refused to bend his religious principles in order to give the King another divorce.
  • Martin Luther King devoted himself to non-violent civil disobedience, despite violent attacks on himself.
  • Jesus suffered and died for sinners, despite His innocence, and His disciples committed themselves to spread the gospel despite the inevitable exiles, trials, and martyrdom, that such ministry required.

You Need to Read! Reasons to Read Daily, for Health, Wealth, and Wisdom

Here are some reasons to read (notes from the video post):

  1. Read for Wisdom:
  • Wisdom is knowing and understanding the truth, which includes what is good in life (in general), and what is best in life, given your circumstances (in particular). 

2. Read for Joy: 

  • Aristotle ”The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet” (from Diogenes’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers)
    • Reading is only bitter in the beginning, I’d submit, once you are proficient in reading, and know what is good to read, reading is then transformed from drudgery to pleasure. The words are means to the ideas and reality, at first it is hard to see, but with polishing, the glass in transparent, and you see through it, to the reality itself.

3. Read for Character Development

  • Pat Williams: “Good character is the accumulated deposit of good moral choices.” (21 Great Leaders, Ch. 10 on Washington)

4. Read for Prudent Investing (i.e.Wealth): 

Interesting articles to check out: 

Books to Buy/Borrow: 

You are not just a bunch of cells, you have a spiritual and moral dimension, if you neglect it, it will show. 

A better title would have been, though longer: “You need to read, study, reflect, build conviction and habits, and invest your resources (time, money, energy, life)” However, setting up a time to read is the first part to doing these other things. 

A question that naturally emerges….how do you know if you’re reading the right things? Good question….but that must be reserved for another day, and another post. 

Hope you have a great Sunday!