Opinion is the lowest form of knowledge9 min read 19 Nov 2016, 01:21 AM IST
If this passes muster, all I have on offer is an argument on why I have no opinion about the demonetization issue
I found myself on sticky ground last week. Soon after the Narendra Modi-led government announced that 86% of all Indian currency (by value) will be illegal tender, I was invited to be part of a panel discussion. I was asked to opine on what I thought of the decision.
I could have manipulated opinion in any which way I chose to. What if I had framed it differently?
What, for instance, if I had asked: “If our armymen can spend years in the harshest of terrains like Siachen protecting our borders, can’t we gulp a few weeks of pain?" I am pretty damn sure the final answer would have been dramatically different by an overwhelming margin. To that extent, it is easy to manipulate our minds and opinions.
Allow me, therefore, to end this dispatch by quoting ad verbatim, from a commencement speech by William (Bill) Bullard, a former English teacher and photographer of considerable repute.
Legend has it, the speech did not go down well with the authorities because he spoke bluntly to them on what he thought of opinions and what they ought to unlearn from school. I could not independently verify the assertion that it did not go down well with the school or find the full text online. What I could manage to extract is reproduced below.
On the importance of opinion: Opinion is the lowest form of human knowledge; it requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge, according to George Eliot, is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound, purpose-larger-than-the-self kind of understanding...
On the importance of solving given problems: Schools teach us to be clever, great problem solvers, but not to include ourselves in the problem that’s being solved. This is a great delusion. It makes us arrogant and complacent and teaches us to look at the world as a problem outside of us. As in Oedipus, public problems—the plague on Thebes or our own pestilences, war or global warming—are private problems. The plague is only lifted when each person sees his responsibility not in analysing the problem, not in solving the riddle, but in changing our actions to address a public need. Oedipus destroyed the two things that had deceived him—his eyes and his power—and in so doing saved his city.
On the importance of earning the approval of others: Schools teach students to seek the approval of their teachers. Indeed, for all of our differences, this is one area that parents and teachers share; we are wired or we are hired to believe in you, to approve you, to prevent or mitigate the experiences of disappointment… Try to correct this in two ways.
First, seek people, work for people who don’t have to like you, people who can easily disapprove of you, people that you can’t easily please. Their scepticism or indifference will define you.
Second, if you don’t do so already, begin working for yourself, and let the teachers be damned. But they won’t be—they will just be all the more approving because that kind of integrity can only command respect. After all, most of the work we devise is devised for students who are not working for themselves, so those that do surpass our expectations and teach us things that we have never thought of.
Charles Assisi is co-founder of Founding Fuel Publishing.
His Twitter handle is @c_assisi
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
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