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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Set Ajar

What do you do when someone says something you do not want to hear? (Serendipity Bible Fourth Edition, page 1395).

It all depends on who is telling me something I do not want to hear.  On one extreme let us say that it is a medical doctor I respect saying I should get a bone marrow biopsy to test for cancer.  This is not music to my ears, but my inclination is not to get a second opinion, but rather to do what he advises as soon as possible.  At the other extreme is someone who lacks credibility for me, at least in the subject at hand.  I have a friend that is politically at odds with me.  He is given to sending me emails with recommendations for his favorite candidate.  If I can tell from the subject line such a recommendation is what the email is all about, I don’t even open the email for I detest the candidate and am frustrated that my friend could in any way support him.

So these are two factors in the accessibility equation–the credibility of the source and the nature of the subject.  A further factor is the measure of control I have over the situation.  Say I am a student in a class taught by my aforementioned friend.  It is a political science class and he freely professes all the great things about the candidate I detest.  Since I am now in a position with significant lack of control (I can be tested on a political essay question that includes reference to his candidate), I must at the least show that I have listened to what my friend the professor has said on the subject.

A final factor, of course, is emotional valence.  If the subject matter or personage elicits major negative emotional stress on my part, a typical response is avoidance.  I have taken courses in which the subject matter was particularly stressful for me due to the alien nature of the subject. I did not feel adept or at home (the smell of biology lab comes to mind).  In these cases “study time” were tense times of enforced moral duty and desperate mental flights.

I suppose the “right” answer for the beginning question is that I marshal fairness, goodwill, and calm; and with an open mind consider objectively with full attention all that is said. That might be the right answer, but it does not work for me.

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