Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Value of Playing Devil's Advocate

This weekend was awesome. Having spent it with, among others, two illustrious Bloggers (and having discussed blogging-related issues far more often and at greater length than I ever have before), I felt it would be just plain wrong to neglect mention of it in this forum. As always, SerandEz were perfect hosts--the food was amazing, the company stimulating, and the baby absolutely adorable.

In addition to blog-related topics of conversation, we had quite a few other deep and fascinating (and lengthy) discussions. One of these related to whether it is necessary to acknowledge the validity of approaches that conflict with our own, and whether by doing so one is crushing youthful idealism.

I shall not even attempt to recap the majority of the conversation, but for me, the bottom line was that it is absolutely imperative to try to understand the point of view of those with whom we disagree, for two main reasons. One is that, though idealism is wonderful, it is impractical to refuse to see how the world functions (even if you disagree with the methods by which it does). Idealists are the only ones who will ever be able to affect change, and if they stay in lala land and never open their eyes to the real world and to points of view that differ from their own, how are they going to do anything? If you simply say “the other side is garbage” and dismiss it, no one will listen to anything you have to say. You need to understand the other side in order to argue against it.

Furthermore…and I think even more importantly...it is crucial to understand that there is another perspective. That even though you may disagree with that perspective, it is an approach. It is valid. People who hold that approach are valid, and it is not right to harbor dislike and animosity towards them. We have to understand them in order to love them, to promote ahavas Yisroel. For me, this is the bottom line. Love your fellow Jew. The End.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Quite true in general, oh HeadsUpp maiden.

But speaking of Devil's Advocate... I just have to think of a case where there is absolutely no value to acknowledging "the other side."

Polytheism! 'Tis perhaps of some use to explore why some might think there are multiple gods running around doing who-knows-what, but giving a nod to the validity of their *position*? I think not.

SJ said...

anon - I think you mistook my point. The discussion wasn't about acknowledging the validity of every position under the sun--I am certainly no moral relativist. Rather, I was specifically referring to examining differing approaches within Orthodox Judaism. I apologize for not making myself clearer.

Ezzie said...

4 hours or so crammed into one post? Very impressive... :)

Well, I must say, I completely agree, and very well put. Idealism, and the idealistic, are truly the key to the future - their drive and energy are what spur progress in all its forms. But they can only do so when they understand and can present how to practically implement their ideals in the real world as opposed to the abstract... and the real world has many pitfalls, many of which are not logical - but because they do exist, they cannot be ignored.

Great post, SJ. :)

Ezzie said...

(and lengthy) discussions

Hehe. :P

Ezer K'negdo said...

So, SJ, when you say "Love your fellow Jew. The End." who do you mean? From your clarification in your comment section, it appears as if you mean only love your fellow Orthodox Jews. I have to believe you don't mean this. I am hoping in the context of your discussion with Ezzie you were referring to Orthodox Jews, but in general you perhaps you can expand the context to mean that in order to promote ahavas yisroel, ALL Jews must be heard. No one has to agree (which would be impossible anyway - 2 Jews, 3 opinions :-)), but respect for differing perspectives is paramount. Respect, and heimish behavior on all sides. This, for me, is "The End." Otherwise k'lal Yisroel has no meaning.

SJ said...

Ezzie- thanks! :)

Ezer K'negdo - of COURSE I mean that we should love all fellow Jews--I never for a moment meant to imply otherwise! (Gee, it seems that in general I am a lot less clear than I intend to be.) I couldn't agree with you more. However, though we should respect people of all perspectives, I do think that (to paraphrase Orwell) some perspectives are more equal than others. But that does not mean that you should love the person holding the perspective any less.

Ezer K'negdo said...

:-) I don't think Orwell could have ever predicted the varied and diverse world that is modern Judaism. And I think every one of us thinks his/her perspective is the most 'equal' and the other perspectives are 'valid' but not 'equal'. The presence of HKB"H in every Jew is the equalizing factor.

SJ said...

EK - True, true.

Chana said...

Oh, but we quite like our lala land. ;)

Seriously, though, you're right to a certain extent. The only factor is this- if I don't like the rules that you think I have to play by, I'm going to create my own set of rules. You're correct that I have to play within the real world, but nobody ever said I have to play by the real world's established rules. Time for new methods and new rules, folks; the revolution is here. :D

Re: First anonymous. Actually, one of my good friends is Hindu...and it's pretty fascinating to hear her take on her beliefs.

M.R. said...

Chana-
Fascinating, maybe. But other than that, what's the point? And learning avoda zara for fun doesn't count as a "point."

(BTW, I'm first anonymous. And-- *I know who you are.* Bwahahahaha!)

Chana said...

Dear Maniacally Laughing First Anonymous/ Meanderations,

Hmm. Do I know who you are? Are you in my class? Am I involved in some kind of feud with you? Are we friends? Feel like introducing yourself anytime soon? Because that would be nice...

It begins to frighten me, the number of people who know who I am. *wrings hands*

Ezzie said...

You're correct that I have to play within the real world, but nobody ever said I have to play by the real world's established rules.

Amen to that...! :) Writing one's own rules is the best part...

the only way i know said...

Blogging has opened my eyes to a big world with many people and many perspectives. It's one of the things I value about blogworld.

It's important, though, to understand the
depth and value of one's own perspectives, lifestyle.. etc.. because one can get carried away with another's 'belief' or perspective, without giving due credence to one's own (usually because one's own position is made up of habit rather than deep thought)

I'm not sure that I agree with Chana's 'make your own rules' idea. Unless it's aimed at creativity, and individualism that enhances one's true purpose.
Rabbi Tatz once gave an example of a regimen of soldiers standing in line... and one of them raising his hand and waving to his mom in the crowd 'HI MOM!'...
He's 'individual' true.. but pretty much ruins the bigger picture :-)

Chana said...

No, no, no, the only way I know. Saying "Hi, Mom," is breaking the established rules. I said nothing about breaking rules, merely creating new ones.

Genius is often simply looking at something in a different way. It isn't always a new way; it's simply new in contrast to whatever has been the "way" up till now.

If there are two systems in place and I don't like either one, I create the third (and better) system. That is all.

the only way i know said...

Ahh, Chana!
Well, I must say I truly love your explanation! I enjoy seeing genius at work.. and love it even more when that 'genius at work' happens to be me ;)
lol
Thanks for explaining.

SJ said...

Chana - you know I'm looking forward to your revolution when it comes...even if it makes us "normal" ;)

TOWIK - of course, understanding and truly believing in one's own perspective is a prerequisite. I would hope that anyone thoughtful enough to consider the positions of others would have first thought through his/her own.

Diana said...

I am also quite illustrious. Even if I was sitting at the other end of the table.

SJ said...

Diana - I have no doubt as to your illustriosity--but I didn't know that you blogged! Nice to meet you again in a different format. :)

M.R. said...

About that soldier of yours/Rabbi Tatz's, TOWIK... I hear the point--a good, considerate soldier doesn't break ranks and yell "Hi, mom." But what if everyone treats you like a soldier but you don't *want* to be a soldier?
Let's say X finds himself in the army, but he really wants to be a poet (or better yet, a physicist :evil grin:). Why can't he just say 'hi, mom' until everyone gets the point and chucks him out?

Northern Light said...

I think by trying to see others' points of view, it expands our understanding of our own positions. And that applies to anyone, anything that is different from you, not just within Orthodox Judaism. We do need to promote ahavas Yisroyal, and by listening to others and accepting them (while, perhaps, trying to respectfully convince them of OUR perspective) we encourage cohesiveness rather than divisiveness. But I don't understand what you mean about squashing young idealism. Discussing and disagreeing doesn't squash idealism, unless the youngster is so insecure and lacking confidence she can't hold her own. In which case, go ahead, squash!

Erachet said...

northern light - I agree, I think the only way idealism can really be squashed is if the person doesn't have much conviction in his/her belief in the first place.

I think it's imperative to acknowledge the other side of basically any issue, even if you don't agree with it, because it seems to me that a lot of discord and negative judgment in the world, and more specifically, among Jews, stems from people not understanding one another. Understanding does not mean agreeing. I think we all need to try to understand where others are coming from because that's the only way we can ever move forward in the world instead of remaining stagnant in our misunderstandings.

Erachet said...

Oh, one last thing, Chana - I love your description of finding a third way to do things and I completely agree with it. It's like looking at a situation from a new angle, especially when something seems to be at a dead end. I love thinking out of the box like that, instead of listening to people speak as though they are confined to the little square bit of space that society seems to place around them. There's always a new way. At least, when it comes to societal things. An exception to this would probably be Halacha.