Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Thinking out loud about being mature.

I often get impatient with superficial New Zealand Television journalism but I saw a bit of a program the other night that set me thinking. It was about a man who had been in prison and while there undertook Distance Learning University Study. It changed his life and now he is a motivational tutor. He claimed that the thing that the education gave him was the ability to be self-critical, to question and rethink his own world view. That, he claimed, enabled him to change as a person. He said something like, "I used to be an arrogant bugger, a know all." He claimed education enabled him to rethink things and be more aware of what he did not know.  His comments got me stewing on people I know and conversations and relationships I share in. I decided that maybe there are at least two important skills or attitudes to grasp if we are to be mature.
1. The readiness to think critically - to be self-critical.
One of the things that annoys me about some of our drop-in people is that they act as if they know it all.   In my nasty moments I have often been tempted to put a poster on the drop-in centre wall that says, "If you know so much how come you are unemployable and need to come to me for a food hand-out?"  I suspect many of these folk know that they are not the top of the gene pool and overcompensate for it by sounding definite. But they are not alone. My wife and I were talking together about committee meetings we used to attend and the characters around the table. There were some who sounded forth with a definiteness that you had to be strong to question. Their perspective was right, they could not hear any other. Other people said of one of these characters, "There's only one way to do something - his way. That's why nobody wants to work with him." It is a bit sad because if that's the case we stop growing and learning. I was with a group of people in a chaplaincy on Friday. We were discussing social situations and how people get into messes. They were sounding off - It was all their (the needy's) fault that I had to run night shelters, and drop-in centres and was involved Habitat for Humanity. "These people are losers who should be left to suffer the consequences of their actions. They should not be bailed out! We had to make our own way!"  - so it went on.  I was gutless I guess. I wanted to scream! "It is not that simple! There are a whole lot of factors! That's an oversimplified view of things." All I said was, "Is that how you see it?" I felt that they would not be prepared to see it differently. They had pontificated! End of story. I would be wasting my emotional energy and breath questioning it. I also know educated people with the same attitude. They are often bullies on committees and the ones who resist change. I got to thinking that while they are "Educated" their education was just a lot of "knowledge", most often specialised knowledge, attached to their brain. They had not really interacted with or in their learning. They had not built it into their being and truly assimilated it, integrating it into their world view. There is a certain humility required to allow that process to happen. Education and ideas are often wasted on the "Know all".  Jesus said, "Unless you become as little children." Truly wise people hold inner-conversations with themselves and question their thinking. Truly wise people often put their perspectives in the form of questions. "Don't you think...?" or "I wonder if...?" which allows others to interact with them and is open to others' thoughts and knowledge.
2. Empathy
I often think of Piaget when I watch little children setting a table with cutlery. Piaget taught about educational development and outlined stages we all had to go through. One illustration of a stage was that before a certain stage of development children have not got the ability to recognise that "right" and "left" would be different for people on the other side of the table.  They cannot abstractly put themselves on the other side of the table. A child will have all the knives and forks correctly placed on the side of the table they are standing on, but they will be about face on the other side. On their side, knife on the right, fork on the left - but when they reach across the table the knife ends up on the left and the fork ends up on the right. Their mind cannot abstractly transport their perspective to see the table from the other side of the room. Immature people have the same problem when living and relating. They are unable or maybe unwilling to see life from another's perspective. They cannot "walk in somebody else's shoes." I need to develop the ability to see life from where other people are coming from. I often think shy people are good at this. They are scared about rejection and therefore ask themselves how others are seeing them. They are more sensitive. There are complications with this too but a step in maturity is to develop the willingness and skill to see the world from "the other side of the table".

Just thinking out loud.

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