{conviction}

Here’s a brilliantly written, truth-filled post from the poignant Meant for Silence blog. Sarah writes here about thinking, communicating, being aware of what you believe and why, and remaining open to other ideas. It really comes down to remaining humble.

Odd as it may sound, I’ve always been a bit too good at getting my point across.  I like toying with words; figuring out all the nuances of their meaning, taking note of cultural perception, and throwing out expressions with multiple meanings just to see which one people are the most likely to contextually latch onto. An inability to communicate isn’t really a failing in our family, and for me in particular, I like my words to be surgical in their precision.

However, at the same time, a lack of linguistic ambiguity can get troublesome at times. When it’s easy to be manifestly clear on exactly what you mean, it also means that if you change your mind the transformation is glaring. Technically that shouldn’t be a bad thing. After all, the ability to admit when you’re wrong is admirable, indicative of “strong moral fiber” and the like. But in the real world, where perception rules as king, things grow trickier.

People don’t take kindly to those that change their minds. Take politics, where a track record is easily traceable, there are few things more ridiculed than a politician who has “more waffles than a House of Pancakes.” Theoretically the ability to admit you were wrong is admirable, but, as soon as you descend into messy real life people don’t like people that change their minds, and they don’t trust them.

It’s an intriguing issue. Nowadays we like songs that boast “Baby I was born this way” and “I’m never changing who I am.” Consistency and conviction are strengths; indecisiveness and flexibility are the traits of snakes and liars. In “Serenity” a priest uses his dying breath to urge the protagonist “I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.”

This bothers me. I don’t like people who vacillate, but, at the same time, there are few things that frustrate me more than those who refuse to explore ideas that may contradict what they think. (And when I say “explore ideas” I mean “seriously consider that there may be some truth to them, or at least make an honest effort to understand the thought process behind them.” Not “grit your teeth and grouse your way through it.”) Personally, I like reading articles that throw a wrench in my convictions, they force me to step back and make sure I really understand what I believe; it’s my version of a morning sudoku puzzle.

When the Liberal Education movement was revived in the nineteenth century the ideal was to teach people to think for themselves. Education was no longer merely about teaching people how to read; it was about liberating men from believing something simply because someone “said so” and everybody “thinks so” and to teach them to evaluate what is and isn’t true for themselves. When I hear professors talk about a liberal education being meant to give students an opportunity to “explore other subjects that they wouldn’t necessarily study on their own” I want to throw a textbook at their heads. Aside from being a rather horrible selling point, it’s simply wrong.

Studying the liberal arts is not supposed to be about checking out a bunch of subjects so you can discover that even though you thought you’d be a lawyer you’ve decided to instead get a degree in Medieval Literature. It’s about learning how to learn for the rest of your life by producing a person who is “open-minded and free from provincialism, dogma, preconception, and ideology; conscious of their opinions and judgments; reflective of their actions; and aware of their place in the social and natural worlds.” It is meant to teach you to have convictions because you are convinced, rather than because you are stubborn.

In the end, I think that is the way to strike a proper balance between conviction and persuasion. Quite simply, be conscious of what you believe and why, and take the time to be aware of what arguments exist in opposition. After all, “the one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” You should believe things because you fully understand them, not because you read a rousing article promoting one side of the issue. “The false is forever in the lead in everything.  . .[and when] people marry themselves to the first tale told. . . no room is left for the truth.”

In order to be a person of conviction rather than merely an obstinate one, you must have a full understanding of a matter; and if you don’t, then you have no business arguing for or against it. The world of misinformation is made of third-hand accounts.

We are quick to take sides and so reluctant to part from them, but “maturity is recognized in the deliberateness with which a person adopts a creed.”

I agree completely with everything Sarah wrote–and not because she makes a fine point of communicating her thoughts. I’ve come to the same conclusions after much thinking of my own and knowing people who have many strong opinions (whether they’re right in them or not.)

If one is to be passionate about anything, as it’s good to be passionate about what we believe to be true and right and good, it’s only reasonable to have a humble level of conviction behind our passion or our passion will be grotesquely weak instead of beautifully strong. God wants our belief in him to be an ardent, enthusiastic conviction and we know this by what the bible says in Romans 12:9-13 “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Underlining added) Clearly then, having a passionate conviction for Truth while remaining humble is morally upright. “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. (Psalms 25:9)

To me a stubborn mind is a terribly ugly thing. It shows nothing to me besides willful ignorance, arrogance, and weakness. The placid land of Stubbornness is where many people set up camp with the beliefs they have. They choose what to believe at one point, and they’re far too proud to ever acknowledge they may have chosen wrong. Leo Tolstoy told this truth well when he wrote “I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabrics of their life.” People who only give lip-service to their beliefs are both too proud and too cowardly to consider what they fear to be wrong or to act on what they know to be right. Both pride and cowardliness then pave the road to Stubbornness.

I want to say that I appreciate the enthusiasm which well describes much of Boulder (even when it’s enthusiasm for the dark) more than I appreciate those who apathetically say they believe what the bible says is true, but who fail to live out their “convictions.” I want to say this because an apathetic life is a dead life; and at least those who live with passion in the dark possess some degree of courage even though this  courage (if it’s rightly called so) is a courage deserving of little admiration since it results in a death-leap off a cliff. I think this is no courage at all though and only stupidity so I cannot say I appreciate it. I don’t mean it is a stupidity of one because they lack any ability to learn, but I mean it as “tending to make poor decisions or careless mistakes.” If it is simply stupidity than “willful ignorance” makes the third paving stone to the land of Stubbornness.

Others, such as one of my best friends from Boulder, are far different in how they approach their beliefs. They approach their decisions with more humility. My friend in Boulder believes little of what I believe to be true, but I respect him in that he has honestly studied and thought hard about many different and varied ideas and worldviews. I’m not sure he’s yet decided what he believes to be true–or if he ever will–but for his own sake, I pray he finds the Truth and accepts it. I appreciate his deep thinking and searching because I agree that “We must give lengthy deliberation to what has to be decided once and for all.” With that being said though, it is healthy to come to conclusions, while still remaining open to changing one’s mind, of course, because as Yann Martel wrote, “Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

Sarah makes her points clearly and concisely and includes a few apt quotations near the end of her post, but in addition to what she wrote I’m reminded of these words as well–

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.” — Leo Tolstoy

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”– C. S. Lewis

“It is better to learn late than never.” — Publilius Syrus

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” — George Bernard Shaw

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