As I regularly discuss controversial topics with people, I’m often left to interpret the silence with which some people respond to certain logical challenges. (I call this “crickets”, as in hearing nothing but the crickets chirping.) Anyway, being always the one to wonder how the silence should be best interpreted, I think I have noticed a few trends along the way. At times, certain conversations seem to be going along quite nicely until the silence comes, and it’s at that point that I always wonder what happened.
I suppose I could try to express my interpretations of such conversations through some particularly creative medium, like, say, clay modeling, or perhaps interpretive dance, but being more the writer, I think I’ll just indulge in a bit of written make-believe. So here’s what I pretend is being said to me in the silence. If my angle isn’t clear in the first example or two, I trust you’ll see where I’m going by the time you’ve read a few of the following tidbits.
- “I liked what you said about honesty, Jack, and I was with you right up until you suggested that I was going to need to be honest, too.”
- “I thought that was a really good point you were making about how the church ought not be a slave to dysfunctional traditions, Jack, and I was with you right up until you started listing some of the church traditions that I still enjoy.”
- “I thought you nailed it when you said that people ought not make claims they can’t back up with facts, Jack, and I was with you right up until you started pointing out some of my claims that need more facts.”
- “On that thing about not violating the Constitution, I was with you right up until you claimed that my party’s violations of it are shameful, too.”
- “You had me going pretty good on the need to be strong supporters of the Constitution, Jack, and I was with you right up until you said that nobody who has not actually read the Constitution ought to call himself a supporter of it.”
- “I heard what you said about how so many scientists are just hearsay artists, blindly repeating things they’ve never checked out for themselves, and I was with you right up until you started saying that a lot of Christians do exactly the same thing.”
I suppose that most of these examples are cases of what psychologists call “myside bias” (or “my-side bias”). I am instructed that there are circumstances under which a person is simply unaware of his own bias. Beyond that, however, I’m fairly certain that there are times when a person simply chooses to pretend he is unaware of it, just as he may also pretend to be unaware of his own errors.
Many seem to miss the event as it unfolds in their own unconscious minds, but it seems that it often goes something like this:
- The person thinks, says, or does something that doesn’t jibe with reality, logic, fact, ethics, etc.
- A flash of awareness (or conscience) occurs in the person’s mind, perhaps with some attached unspoken notion such as “Uh-oh”, or “I was wrong” or “I might have been wrong”.
- The person’s reflective mind fails to heed the flash of awareness that occurred in step #2. Whether by deliberately ignoring the awareness, or by being poorly trained in what to do with that awareness, no further analysis or “instant replay” or other cognitive simulation is done. Any nagging remnants of the awareness are shooed away from the forefront of the mind.
With many, step #3 seems to vary in a case-by-case manner. It seems to come down to whether the person minds having been wrong or not. If, for example, he had attempted to change the television to Channel 65 to watch the big game, and he accidentally switched it to Channel 64 instead, he’ll likely give voice (or conscious thought) to the “Uh-oh” and correct his error. But if his error was instead that he called a Cherokee an “Indian” even though the Cherokee in question is not from India, may may simply not care that he is wrong.
Thus does he do whatever is required for step #2 above to fade away into grayness. And this is my hunch about those who suddenly drop out of conversations, for it seems that in such cases, it often happens when I have made an assertion that has the effect of step #2 above. That is, that I point out the error about which the other person doesn’t seem to care—that I become that flash of awareness.
To complicate matters, however, sometimes people don’t respond simply because they are busy or because they have, for whatever reason, not received the message. Thus the perils of the Internet!
It is interesting, by the way, to note what happens when I pursue the matter beyond the initial wave of silence—when I reassert the question or the challenge—but that’s another post!