Thursday, November 04, 2010

Faulty Premises

I've been thinking alot about how I think and how I approach questions and conversations. I am very black and white and use strict logic, in most cases, when evaluating things. I like rules; they tell you what to do and show you the boundaries. I like structure; it makes me feel safe. I like logic. But, there was a time when my default reaction was one of emotion. There was a time when I would exagerate the situation because I was angry and just wanted someone to be hurt. I've been thinking of how I made the change from that girl to one who tries to react first with logic and remove emotion from the equation. (Unfortunately, that is not always how I react, but it is my current default setting). Tonight, I realized one of the turning points for me in this journey.

When I was a freshman in college, I took an upper level seminar class called "Church and State". I don't know where my advisor was when I was choosing my courses, because I was definitely in over my head. The professor of that class had a Ph.D in Philosophy and one in Theology. That's right, he held a double doctorate. And, he was an ordained Baptist minister. His credentials were nothing short of impressive.

And, not only was my professor academically and professionally intimidating, but I was in a class full of Junior and Senior Religion and pre-law majors. And, there I was dipping my toe into post-high school work. I'm pretty sure the only reason I didn't drop the class was because I wasn't much for quitting. It probably also had something to do with how interesting the subject matter was to me.

Whatever the case, that class turned out to be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my college career. There were few classes that pushed and stretched me in the way that one did.

Although I learned a great deal that semester about landmark court cases and the intricacies of the church and state argument, what I really learned was a valuable lesson about debate. Our final paper was open to a topic of our choosing based on the cases we had studied. I won't get into specifics here, but I chose a few court cases surrounding a topic about which I was extremely passionate. In truth, it was a very emotional subject matter for me and for many people. But, I dove in, defined my thesis and began building my argument.

And, then I presented my pre-work to my professor.

Things didn't go quite the way I'd hoped. When I shared with him my thesis, he rejected my premise. He told me that the basis of my argument could not be proven in the scientific community to any certainty, so it was not a solid premise for debate. He told me to begin again.

I was at a loss. I had expected this paper to be a breeze because it was a topic about which I cared deeply and about which I had strong feelings. I also believed (and still do) that, even based on my supposedly faulty premise, I was right. But, if I wanted an "A" (which I desperately did) then I had to begin again.

The weeks that lead up to the end of that semester changed me in significant ways. It changed the way I process information and how I approach a discussion or debate. I fought hard to seperate my emotions from the question at hand and find a way to achieve the same goal with a logical and supportable premise. It was one of the hardest things I'd ever done.

I will be forever grateful to that experience as it taught me to remove myself, emotionally, from a situation and see from multiple perspectives. That's become my default position when approaching discussions or answering questions. I try to think of how the other person might view my argument, I test it for validity and substance, and I try to cover it with grace.

This new, and now ingrained, thought process of mine also causes me trouble from time to time. It's made it difficult for me to have discussions with people who don't operate in the same manner. I remember being so frustrated with my professor when I would say, "Well, suppose this was the situation...(insert lofty idealized worldview here)" and he would say, "That is not a feasable situation for this conversation, I reject your premise and will not take this line of conversation any further. Bring me a premise with merit and we will discuss it". But, now I know exactly what he meant.

Sometimes people think that I'm not listening to them or that I'm not understanding what they are trying to say, when the truth often is that I've rejected their premise. In conversations filled with emotion where superlatives are thrown about, I try to bring things back to a place of balance as I believe that things are rarely "all" or "never" in any given circumstance. It usually gets me into trouble, but I'm ok with that. I prefer this line of thinking to the 16 year old girl who would be overcome with emotion and say things she didn't mean and then have to crawl back, days later, to eat her words in shame. I eat my words less these days. I'm hoping it becomes less and less as I embrace truth, grow as a person and learn to love like Christ. I'm not there yet, but I'm a pilgrim on the way.

So, as a black and white thinker in a world of grey, I struggle and get frustrated from time to time. I'm thankful for my "black and white" friends who think the same way and help me feel less alone. And, I'm thankful for my "grey" friends who sharpen me as iron sharpens iron and help me smooth out the rough edges. It's definitely a journey.

Oh, what ever happened with the paper and the class? Hardest won "A" of my life. And, it's one I'll never forget.

No comments: