On Intellectual Unwillingness, Part 3

comments 20
Course Ideas / Dialogues / Science

Genuine, transformative conversation hinges upon the willingness to understand and value the experiences and perspectives of another. An effort is made to take on board another’s ideas and listen for all the places where they intersect, both comfortably and uncomfortably, with our own. Where they don’t fit very well we have an opportunity for exploration, and for new understanding perhaps, but to explore this territory together we must resist the temptation to be rigid in our perceptions. We all must soften our internal geometries, at least for a time, so that we can join in the shared space of dialogue.

If we do not do this, we end up trying to exert a particular view onto another. We harden in our positions and there is little choice but to chisel away on the other’s in order to alleviate our discomfort. We end up making speeches, or scoring points, instead of having conversation. Without setting aside preconceived notions of what we want a particular encounter to be, of who we think we are and who we think the other is and has been, the possibility of true exchange is stymied. Transformative conversation is a space of shared possibility. It requires a certain freedom to move in the unexpected ways that it will.

When I think in these terms it is clear to me that the video I cited two posts ago by Richard Dawkins was not an attempt at genuine, transformative conversation. I also see that my reply wasn’t either, which is why it troubled me. Both of these displays were speeches. They were selfish acts in a sense, not unifying ones. I think if we want to have the sorts of conversations that can lead to genuine transformation—not the “fixing” of one supposedly malfunctioning party or the other, but the renewal of the entire architecture of shared spaces where we meet—then we must suspend our need to be right, and focus instead on being caretakers of one another’s humanity. We must value one another’s dreams, acknowledge one another’s experiences, have compassion for one another’s suffering, and be honest about our own. We must, in essence, join with one another.

When conversation breaks down it is quite often, in my opinion, because of an unwillingness to appreciate one another’s positions. This stems from the profound difficulty we face in truly adopting, at least temporarily, one another’s perspectives. To actually achieve a place of mutual sharing requires a certain paradoxical accomplishment within us: we must decouple our sense of identity from particular ideas, histories and concepts so that we are free to change our inner shape without feeling provoked, while at the same time anchoring the reality of our existence to a stable position. An example of a stable position would be the profound, unconditional love and appreciation for another being. This state can be cultivated, if we so choose and desire, and it is invulnerable to any particular ideas or concepts that may present themselves.

When we fail to do this, we make unreasonable demands on one another, and we find ourselves unable to join in a meaningful way in the space of conversation. I think when good ideas are not considered, this is the reason why. When we’re polarized and think our only choices are to fight it out, or concede territory that leaves us wounded at some level, this is the reason why. It is because we’re unwilling to share in the sacrament, the ceremony, the mutual affirmation of one another that is unity, for all sorts of reasons. What I think is true, is that the reasons we offer for stepping away from unity are never good enough.

A cultural polarity on which I’d like to focus these considerations is the gap that exists between advocates of scientific materialism, and advocates of the existence of a loving God. In my mind, there are perfectly good ideas not being explored by either side of this divide. The positions to which I observe many people clinging, on both sides of this issue, are not entirely justified in my opinion, and were the matter to be considered in the light of mutual respect and admiration for the important aspects of human consciousness and well-being that each party safeguards, I think there is room for a much more fruitful exchange.

I’ll stop here for today in order to keep these posts at a reasonable length, and in my next article will begin to explore particular dimensions to this conversation that I think preclude productive exchange. They hinge upon the sort of unwillingness to deeply consider one another’s positions that I’ve tried to describe above, and for me the truth is that we all suffer when we draw these lines between ourselves. Nobody wins when some of us lose. If we truly wish to end the polarized divides that shackle us all to ineffectual conversations, I think we’ll need to place unity first. And I think we’ll find, if we explore these ideas as openly and honestly as possible, that nobody needs to lose…


  1. Well said Michael, to speak from a place of unity and love allows everything/one to explore what feels right for them… and knowing intuitively there is no wrong. Much love, barbara x

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Barbara. I agree. The word “wrong” has such interesting connotations doesn’t it? I think I understand what you mean–that we can trust enough to follow our hearts without fear of being judged or cast aside… That is so important I think…


      Liked by 1 person

      • AND to allow everyone to experience what they need to experience… knowing we’ll be safe (from them) by focusing on our own intention of experiencing love and keeping our light glowing bright!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This fundamentally seems to be an appeal to Relativism, which, though currently unpopular in Western philosophical thought, seems to be where the wise always end up standing. There’s clearly a difference, though, between (on the one hand) merely tolerating, or engaging in, others’ perspectives, and (on the other) accepting them as perfectly valid within their own terms. Moral Relativism is perhaps particularly tricky — where do we attribute blame and forgiveness in the case of the psychopathic killer who acts as s/he does due to a genetic inheritance, or brain disorder? What are we blaming, and what are we forgiving as if it could’ve been otherwise but for . . . but for what exactly, the world not being as it is? I think I’m taking your argument beyond its remit, Michael, but also to where it leads, perhaps? HX

    Liked by 3 people

    • I had to look up Relativism to be sure I understood where you’re coming from. Ha! I confess I’m not well-versed in these philosophical distinctions. All the interesting things happen where the norms of a given label break down anyways, right!?

      Anyway, having done a bit of research I would say there may be some relativistic elements to what I’m saying, but that overall I wouldn’t say I was heading towards Relativism as I’ve just seen it described. I do think there are absolutes, but I think they operate on a different level than people typically try to invoke them. For instance, we could say “it’s wrong to murder another person” and try to make that an absolute. Relativism might suggest various circumstances in which it might be okay to kill another person, based upon circumstances, etc. We can all imagine these cases. Do we end one life to save a thousand? What about a just war, etc.? I just don’t think there are absolutes when it comes to behavior.

      What I think is absolute operates in another way, more like this: What is joined cannot be harmed. All life is joined. Thus, what lives cannot be killed.

      It wasn’t my intent to attempt to establish the validity of such ideas early in this series, or at all perhaps for the initial foray into this set of posts, but I think for the purposes of giving you an example those are the types of absolutes I think exist. They have nothing to do with behavior, and all to do with what is true absolutely, in any condition or circumstance. To understand them in a meaningful way requires a revision to the manner in which we perceive existence, and while I think that is of ultimate importance to all of us, in the spirit of taking one step at a time I don’t think that’s a very good place to begin!

      With Love


  3. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    This has been a very inspiring series, Michael. I loved the second part – the self correction as someone said. You are very courageous to look at the parts you may not be particularly proud of. You are better at getting off your position than I. I aspire to your ability to not only hear another point of view, but to completely let go of your own to hear and accept theirs better. That is the place where powerful ideas take shape and become something better, having all perspectives aired and included. As much as I believe there is no right or wrong on one level, I find myself getting triggered by someone cramming their belief down my throat. I think I am listening attentively and openly and suddenly my whole body is in a tizzy and I get lost in my mind and have to walk away to avoid an uncomfortable unnecessary argument. Haha. Ah well….work in progress.

    I sent this link to my beautiful faerie goddaughter, as she is about to get her first Master’s in Public Administration on an international level. She is working on her thesis and interviewing lots of different people having many different “positions.” I thought this would be great for her to read. Next year she will get her second Master’s in International Environmental Policy. I think she is pretty good at hearing others’ thoughts and beliefs, but I see her getting triggered too sometimes. It’s hard not to. At least for me. Thanks for this, Michael. You have given us a good example of unity, and how to be closer to it.

    Much love,

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Mary. I’d say we all get triggered on occasion, don’t we!? I appreciate your kind words and while I aspire to be open-minded like this, I’d say it’s a lifelong practice. I heard an interesting episode of the NPR Podcast Invisibilia last week where they were discussing how different two perceptions of the world can be. They noted there that in the western world we have a logic which traces its roots to the Greeks, where both A and Not A can’t coexist. That is part of the logic at the core of our thought. And they discussed how in other parts of the world when a lot of people believe A, and a lot of other people believe Not A, they assume they are both true in a way. I thought that was pretty interesting, and certainly we would benefit from accommodating more of that perspective when we find ourselves unable to reach common ground on issues that affect us all. That either-or logic can lead us to some forlorn places… I hope your goddaughter enjoys it!

      With Love,


  4. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    That is really interesting! Yes, I’d love to see us go more to both A and Not A. Interesting that that logic goes back that far!.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. deep reflection
    on connection, empathy & understanding, Michael!
    sometimes i feel connected to another
    hearing & seeing their story & perhaps,
    true self.
    after all, they’re made of practically
    the same non-self elements as i.
    then other times
    i hardly have a clue
    this other one is 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I once heard an elder from a Huichol community answer a question put to him about something–don’t remember what it was now, but something pretty great–and his answer was that we didn’t even understand what a tree is, so nevermind all these other big ideas we felt so obligated to understand. It was a humorous moment, but I caught his drift. I think he was right on…



  6. Now you are getting just plain heavy right now – and I love it – but with what is going on in my life right now, I don’t think I can do heavy, or at least comment, but your words linger and they evoke and that is perhaps what I need right now.
    More peace, Harlon

    Liked by 1 person

    • No worries, Harlon. Hope all is well, my friend, and that even if it’s not you can appreciate that wellness gets the final word. Sharing peace with you, and the spaces in between.


      Liked by 1 person

  7. let the waves soothe away the lines in the sand and lets return to play and sandcastle building, working together where everyone does it their way and they create a magnificent mansion that houses a light that lets all see the good. Okay, off my soapbox of fun, looking forward to the next post my friend 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s this interesting balance between being able to listen and relate and be in dialogue, and discovering the conversation is too far from your center. You know what you know. And I agree that when we each express and play as who we are, regardless of what we might intellectually come up with to frame our approach, there is a purity that emerges. May we be willing to witness that purity in one another… And may we be willing to express it truly…


      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ah! “Nobody wins when some of us lose.”
    Unfortunately that doesn’t appear to be the climate we find ourselves. And yet, if enough of us join together I have to believe that it makes a difference, Michael. Your words,

    “We must value one another’s dreams, acknowledge one another’s experiences, have compassion for one another’s suffering, and be honest about our own. We must, in essence, join with one another.”

    …touched my heart because I have been feeling the same kinds of things and thinking thoughts about the way each and every one of us has a place…we belong…we are important to the whole. The things we do and think and experience are all valid and when you truly get this (I am not perfect) then the guy who cuts you off on the road and flips you the bird (happened yesterday…who am I kidding…happens almost every day) is absolutely entitled to his opinion. I may like his way…but he is entitled to his way…and I can never know what his life is like to make him want to behave that way.

    Ah! I saved these articles because I knew I couldn’t do them justice. Glad to have them here…right now…today ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lorrie. Yeah, it’s challenging as ever. So many raw emotions amplified by constant bombardment in the media and in the social media and in the ethers. I really admire people able to stay centered in this madness, and also agree it’s so important right now. I think we make a difference in each moment we take that deep breath, choose tolerance, try to understand before we act. Some actions that seem like conflict are still necessary, but at least they are understood, and we can take them with the humility of knowing we are doing our best and seeking to understand even as we create the boundaries we need…

      With Joy!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is easier said than done, I believe. I just know that as there is a reason for EVERYTHING that there must also be a reason for this unrest. And all will play out as it will. I just hope that good hearted, compassionate energy takes the forefront!
        Sweet Blessings, Michael 🌼💛☀️

        Liked by 1 person

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