Discourse in a Rapidly Changing World

On the heels of Geoff Livingston’s post addressing the roots of civility, it is prudent to address the significant loss of critical thinking and discussion. It appears as though people have forgotten how to have two-way conversations in the land of the Internet. In a digital world without borders, we have generated our own great walls surrounding and protecting those who think like us, look like us, and remind us of ourselves or who we think we may be to the world at large. In an act to share knowledge with the world, the fishbowl has prevented and discouraged divergent opinions and reflective thought.

In this spectacular TEDSalon talk in London 2010, Noreena Hertz raises the issue of how and when to talk to experts (video below). Now, doesn’t this topic get your heart pumping just a bit faster? Perhaps because in the world of social media, the term expert is extremely common? I thought it might. As Hertz, claims with scientific research, we have become too dependent on experts. We crave the expert’s definitiveness and certainty to such a degree, we have created silos for ourselves away from people of opposing views and forgotten how to think and question for ourselves.

While we may not agree with everything everyone says, surrounding ourselves with opposing viewpoints allows us the opportunity to examine for ourselves why we feel so strongly about the issue and perhaps view from a different perspective. We have the opportunity for reflection; an action often skipped in the real-time of social media communication.

All of us are experts in some form. So, let’s stop debating on who is calling whom an expert. It is what it is. Anyone can hang a virtual or physical shingle out front and claim to have knowledge on a subject, but it is up to each one of us to start standing up for what we believe, examine why, and in some cases, upon reflection, choose to go another direction. All experts and workers today will need to embrace critical thinking to survive the future. Robert Reich, author of The Work of Nations, identifies these four areas of critical thought as necessary to master:

  1. Command of Abstractions: recognizing patterns and meanings;
  2. Thinking Within Systems: examining why the problem arises and how it is connected to other problems;
  3. Testing Ideas: judging and interpreting the transmission of information;
  4. Learning to Collaborate and Communicate: articulating, clarifying and then restating for one another how to identify and find answers; seeking and accepting criticism from peers, soliciting help and giving credit to others.

Reich calls this worker a “symbolic analyst.” Perhaps it is time to stop worrying so much about who is an expert (and who is not) and discovering how all of us can become symbolic analysts, surround ourselves with those like-minded individuals, and strive to be a better society. Your thoughts? How are you taking strides to develop the “symbolic analyst” in yourself and others?

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  • http://increasingworkplaceproductivity.net Bojan Djordjevic

    This is kinda off topic, but she’s hot :)

  • Anonymous

    “Recently there have been people getting on in the world as strategists, but they are usually just sword-fencers… In olden times strategy was listed among the Ten Abilities and Seven Arts as a beneficial practice. It was certainly an art but as beneficial practice it was not limited to sword fencing. The true value of sword-fencing cannot be seen within the confines of sword-fencing technique.” Musashi, 1645.

  • Vargaslmv

    Very well said. Amazing how so many people want to toss history for the promises of the new world….the treasure lies in realizing the old, embracing the theory and letting it evolve through practice.