Have you ever noticed that people are seldom arguing about what they think they are arguing about? And that means you and I as well.

I was having a political discussion (argument?) with a friend. We disagreed on every issue raised. Finally, I suggested that we step back and try to analyze this whole situation at a deeper level. I suggested that we take two minutes each to describe the kind of country we would like the USA to be, the kind of country of which we would be proud.

I began by saying that my idea of a country of which I could be proud comes from what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel saw as the heart of the prophetic message. As Heschel put it in the Introduction to his great work on the prophets (it was based on his dissertation at the University of Berlin) God judges a city by how its poorest citizens live. End of story.

My friend said that he wanted to see a country where people who work hard get rewarded and people who don’t work hard don’t. It was immediately clear to me that our argument had been pointless. We were both intelligent beings. All my arguments followed from my starting point. And all of his arguments flowed consistently from his starting point. Any further conversation should be directed to these starting points, not to the conclusions logically drawn from them.

Have you noticed this in your arguments? Try stepping back from the presenting issues and look for what I have often called “what’s going on in what’s going on”. These are the “meta” issues, the underlying assumptions from which our arguments inevitably flow. After Aristotle wrote his study of the observable world (his “Physics”), he wrote about what transcended “Physics”. And he called that book “Metaphysics”, the “after-physics study”.

So I’m going to try to do that from now on. I’m going to try to find the “meta” premise for the multi-layered arguments we build on that always present but frequently unnoticed foundation.

By Ron Miller, April 10, 2011


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