(This started as a reply to this blog post, but it became a topic I’ve been wanting to write for a while so here it is)
Something I’ve tried to teach my kids is that the most important question in the world is “Why?”.
It should never be dismissed out of hand, and where possible should be answered to the best of ones abilities, with reasonable moderation where appropriate (e.g. a 3yr old doesn’t need the full mechanical explanation of where babies come from)
The next part though is tougher. Teaching them to recognise *when* to ask. In reference to the Drag0nista’s blog post, I agree completely with everything she says (the difference being I’m a white male and left-of-centre if you must use such descriptions).
As “outsiders” to these issues, it can make it harder for us to understand why such questions are as sensitive as they are. I’d love to live on Vulcan where questions and knowledge are all that matters and you can ask anything without messy emotions and feelings getting in the way, or the concern of upsetting someone by talking about them.
And there-in lies the challenge. Without having existing knowledge of an issue, how do you become aware of the full sensitivities of that issue? Really all you can do is start with really small questions and hope to find a receptive teacher, and take baby-steps towards that really big question you want to ask.
We live in a world of feeling and emotion, not logic (you would know if you’re on Twitter!). I pride myself on being quite prepared to discuss *any* topic if the other person is also genuinely interested in discussing it. I love hypotheticals and playing “devils advocate”.
But when it comes to topics I have no personal experience of (e.g. racism, disabilities, LGBT, non-christian religions) then I will tend to back-off and just hope one day to meet a willing teacher who is prepared to be patient enough to educate me. To a person who lives in “that world”, perhaps they spend more time on the defensive, so any question is automatically filtered with suspicion as that is where the majority of such questions they get belong. When a person such as myself asks a question with a genuine intent in the quest for knowledge, they have no reason to treat my approach any differently to the “usual” questions they hear.
Perhaps that is the trick. There are a lot of things I know I will never have the answers to, but I don’t drive myself crazy on the fact that I know I will never know. With some issues, I’d really like to be able to satisfy my desire to discuss them, but perhaps I’m trying to make it more about me (and my desire to know) than about any specific *need* for me to know. My life will go on, and it would possibly be that little bit richer for any new knowledge on the issue, but ultimately I have to realise that sometimes knowledge is something that has to come to you, you can’t demand or take it from someone.
So, like Drag0nista said so well, “when someone takes the time to point out to me that I have an ill-formed opinion, I’m generally open to any information they can provide me”. I would love to be able to receive that information *before* I speak that ill-formed opinion out loud, but please be patient with me if it happens the other way around.