Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Adolescence Defiance and Closed-mindedness v. Skepticism

Unfortunately, this post is going to be a non-social-media-related rant, but hopefully interesting nonetheless. In my years as a teenager, I have noticed many strange and unusual teen behaviors (some of which I can even attribute to myself), but none is more annoying and unproductive than that of adolescent defiance and the rebellious stubbornness that most teens, and even many adults, manifest in their everyday lives. I am talking about the natural hatred of any idea that contradicts what you originally thought. What I hope to elaborate in this post is the precarious balance between the ideal skeptical mind of a standard individual and the dangerous closed-mindedness that many adolescents seem to be running into.
Stubborn as a donkey.

When a teenager is set on an idea, he or she is set on it. It is unlikely that person will immediately reject his or her opinion for somebody else's. This is quite simply known as the not-admitting-you-are-wrong syndrome. But why does it happen? It all has to do with social psychology. Our world has so strongly enforced the idea that you have to be perfect and right all the time that individuals are genuinely afraid to not live up to that standard. In the human mind, being wrong means falling out of the majority, which means becoming a social outcast. Now obviously in reality if somebody is wrong they rarely become a social outcast, but that is how our subconscious mind over-exaggerates it to be, and it scares us to pieces. Now alone this sense of fearing being wrong is good, because it motivates people to get things right. What if students in the classroom all of sudden did not care if they answered any questions wrong: disaster is what would happen. However, this sense of stubbornness becomes a problem when the process becomes cyclical; when society affects our mind by making us scared to be wrong, that is good to an extent, but when that fear and internal stress goes back and affects society, that is where the problem lies.

Let me give an example. Have you ever hated somebody because they were better than you? It does not matter whether they were actually better than you, it just matters how you portrayed them (this is psychology, not physics). Most people will probably deny it and describe how they have never hated a living sole on this planet. Yeah, good luck with that. Anyway, chances are you have felt even a slight feeling of annoyance, hatred, envy, something toward somebody who has bested you in any way. This is that problem I mentioned. What's happening is that your internal fear of being wrong has circled back outside into the world and has affected your feelings toward others. Because you fear being wrong, and because somebody else is getting something right all the time, you try to play down that person in order to preserve your own self-esteem. You try to convince yourself that there is something else inherently wrong with that person, so that you can play up yourself and make yourself feel better. In psychology this is explained by cognitive dissonance, which is a theory that says if two conflicting ideas are joined together, our brains will come up with a less conflicting solution to explain it. To go with the textbook example (literally from my textbook), you think you are an honest person (thought A), but then you cheat on a test (thought B). Your mind cannot compute these two things together, so it comes up with a solution. For example, your mind might change thought B and say you didn't actually cheat, you just saw the answers. Or your brain might change thought A and resolve you are no longer an honest person. Or finally, your mind might reconcile the two by saying something like the test was unfair so you had to cheat. Either way, when two conflicting thoughts (you getting something wrong and somebody else getting something right), your brain has to reconcile that, and I doubt it's gonna go with the your a horrible person solution.

Moving on, how does this become dangerous in the real world? So we feel hatred for people, what now? Well, let's say you are convinced on a argument, you have taken a side, but you are wrong. Now somebody comes over and tries to introduce a new idea, and say that your idea is wrong. Well, what I just said above goes into play. You cannot accept the idea that you are wrong and this person is right, because of the conflicting cognitions, so therefore you instead search for various reasons, legitimate or not, for why you are right. This is how stubbornness occurs. The hatred that develops from the conflicting they are right, you are wrong thoughts puts you in a state of frustration and aggression that refuses to accept the other person's thoughts. And it is this that pisses me off, because there is nothing more annoying than somebody not admitting they are wrong just because they cannot accept the fact that somebody else might be right. Now I know that I've been boring you, so I'll try and conclude.

In the beginning of this post, I said I'd explain the difference between closed-mindedness and skepticism. The former is bad while the latter is good. Well, closed-mindedness is exactly what I just explained: that cognitive dissonance between you being wrong and somebody else being right. You absolutely refuse to accept another person ideas based solely on the plea that you cannot be wrong. That is closed-mindedness, and it is very bad. Skepticism, on the other hand, is when this cognitive dissonance does not exist, when you are actually willing to accept the other person's argument given the correct evidence and argument. If only all people were skeptical and not closed-minded. Then my life would be a lot easier. Well, I guess this post is just a plea to be skeptical but not closed-minded, so please make everybody's lives easier and try for this goal. (Heck, even I have to struggle for this, because I know I am still stubborn.) And for those who might have been expecting some kind of social media post, I have a closing question for you: which companies do you know, between Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc., are closed-minded and which are skeptical (and which are neither)?

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