Saturday, January 08, 2011

I Stand Aside

Three words that should be better known are "I stand aside."

Because consensus-based decision making is so prone to gridlock, it includes decision-making tactics that other political systems overlook. Chief among these is standing aside.

Standing aside lets us disagree with a decision without interfering with it. That is, we don't always have to act on our opinions; just because we don't like something, that doesn't mean it should be stopped. After all, there's nothing sacred about opinions; most of our opinions are poorly informed ones. When we can't make an informed decision, we would all be better off if we stood aside and let more informed people make the decision.

Life's too complex and too short for there to be enough time to become informed enough about every subject to make good decisions. We need to choose the subjects we care enough about to prioritize, and then then we need to become educated enough about them for our opinions to do more good than harm; on other subjects we need to learn how to let go, to stand aside.

This is a problem for most of us because we think standing aside might somehow be irresponsible. As with our irrational fear of acknowledging our ignorance, our fear of standing aside is learned in school.

We teach our children that adults in America are free to have their own opinions, but we forget to teach them that they are also free not to have opinions - as well as not to act upon the ones they do have except when they matter most. As a result, it is widely though unconsciously believed that having opinions should be the normal state of affairs, along with pushing those opinions on everyone around us.

Looking at the state of public discourse today, the pointless, endless squabbling and name-calling, surely we can agree that we're long overdue to try something different.

Fortunately, in the search for the truth there are better options than holding and defending opinions.

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