Inquirers and Denyers -Two Attitudes of Mind

Mental flexibility and rigidity is a crucial matter. Either one is usually both an attitude and a habit. Yesterday as I was reading posts about the polar vortex’s possible contributions to the January 2014 extreme colds and storms in the Eastern U.S., (and much less publicized, climate scientists’ opinions that it may also be causing the blocking high pressure area off northern California that has given the usually rainy and foggy winters of the redwood country less rain in the last year than the desert cities of San Diego and Phoenix, which has caused my spring to stop running), I noticed something interesting. The intelligent and thoughtful comments tended to include a lot of detail and information about diverse phenomena related to climate change, whereas the boorish comments that insulted previous posters, primarily by people who denied that any changes in climate are actually occurring, were for the most part devoid of any knowledge or details about real phenomena. They just parroted opinions of others who thought similarly.

As I read, it occurred to me that those who posted almost all the comments could easily be labelled “INQUIRERS” or “DENYERS.” An Inquirer is somone who actively seeks out diverse best available information about something, usually from a variety of different kinds of sources and in considerable detail. A Denier is someone who forms opinions based on repeating what others have said and does not go looking for additional information in anything resembling an openminded way. They know what they believe and don’t want anyone to question it. Reminds me of a time many years ago when in the middle of a discussion a friend said, “Victor, you really don’t like to be contradicted, do you/” It hit me like a brick. I had viewed myself as SO OPENMINDED. But what she said was so true at that moment in that context that I had to admit it. It was the beginning of a long-term change in attitude. Now when I find myself stubbornly holding onto some belief or opinion despite what others say, my discipline is to NOTICE THAT I’M DOING SO and then say something like, “Of course, I may be mistaken.”

For all you denyers out there, please understand this: The main thing you are doing is defending your self-centered egos. You believe that you are not an OK person if your belief about something is wrong. The reality is that there is no dishonor in changing your mind, in acknowledging that you were mistaken about something. Dishonor lies in snotty, judgmental put-downs of others who disagree with you. THAT’s small minded. THAT closes down your ability to grow, to change, to discover. If that’s not the case with you, you can ask yourself: “What’s in it for you to hang on so tightly to you attitude, belief, opinion, or preconception?” What about it are you attached to? The approval of others who are parroting the same opinions? Or . . .? Doing the best you can to answer that question in an honest way could be an important step in your life.

Of course my classification of online commenters, and for that matter everybody else, into Inquirers and Denyers is urealistically dualistic. Actually people are not just one or the other, but hold attitudes along a continuum that runs from flexible openmindedness to rigid clinging to their preconceptions. Many people fall somewhere in the middle. It appears to me that fewer of those in the middle tend to make online comments than Inquirers and Denyers. And some Inquirers dig up a lot of information to support their views but are nonetheless rigid and judgmental. Little in the realm of the human psyche is totally cut-and-dried, either THIS or THAT. (Back to Venn Diagrams and mathematical set theory for the demonstration.) But in the clouds of bloggers, comment posters, and purveyors of editorial opinions (so labeled or disguised as so-called “news”), an great many of the aforementioned authors sound like either Inquirers or Denyers.

Note: I have used the spelling “denyers” instead of “deniers” because the dictionary defines the latter as “a unit of weight by which the fineness of silk, rayon, or nylon yarn is measured,” and “a French coin, equal to one twelfth of a sou, which was withdrawn from use in the 19th century.”