Excellence is brittle

Ivar Arosenius, The Golden Bird of the Caliph, 1908

I was near 30 before I realized there are (for simplicity’s sake) three levels of discussion.

The first is emotional. Anything goes, including logic if it gets the arguer closer to their goal, which is to hurt their opponent. This is the kind most common on the internet and in other dysfunctional relationships. It may include any kind of communication but is characterized by presence of insults.

The second is critical. Everyone pretends they’re not being emotional (some may actually believe it) and first-order critical thinking is variously applied. The goal is to win, which first requires identifying points of difference, which are then overcome. This is rhetoric, what you are taught in debate class. Characterized by counter-arguments.

The third is imaginative. Emotion is neither the driver nor the driven. Empathy is rewarded. Higher-order critical thinking is variously applied. Although indirectly seeking truth, the primary goal is understanding, which requires identifying points of commonality. Characterized by questions.

I was near 40 before I realized that any specific failure to achieve the third had more to do with my choice of partner than my faults of character — although that, too. It’s very hard to dance when your partner’s shoelaces are untied. One might say pointless, even.


cover image: Ivar Arosenius, The Golden Bird of the Caliph (1908)