A Fils for Your Thoughts

November 7, 2008

The Promise of Change

Filed under: Politics — Haider @ 6:28 pm

Whenever I see the word “change” being used in a political campaign, I remember an incident my brother-in-law told me about:

He was once in a social gathering (i.e. a deewaniya) here in Kuwait, when a man running in a local election came in and was encouraging the attendees to vote for him. My brother-in-law recognized the man, and so he asked him: “In your campaign slogan, you say that you are working for change. What do you mean by that?”

The man replied: “Change is what people want.”

In other words, “change” is a buzz-word people want to hear, and this man doesn’t even know what it means, but used it anyway to win votes!

The odd thing is, even those who are mesmerized by the word “change” don’t know what it means! All they can associate with the word is relief from their existing problems.

However, change isn’t necessarily a good thing. It all depends on the direction this “change” will take us in.

I think, by now, you know why I’m making this point: many of Barack Obama’s supporters were mesmerized by his slogan: “Change We Can Believe In” (and other slogan variations, which were centered on the “change” theme) without really knowing what he means by this word, or what sort of policies he advocates.

Words such as: change, hope and justice are totally meaningless in political discourse because they could mean anything. The speaker means one thing (if he knows what it means in the first place, unlike our local politician I mentioned earlier) and the listeners understand it the way they want, and assume that this is what the speaker meant.

I don’t deny that Obama will bring about change, but I’m not too sure his supporters will be happy with the change he brings.

August 31, 2008

Frames of Reference

Filed under: Dialogue,Philosophy — Haider @ 7:51 am

Discussions often operate on the level of arguments, or statements. One party makes an assertion, and the other party dismisses it as “not making sense,” “being flawed,” or a number of other reasons for not accepting the assertion. What is often overlooked is the frame of reference used to justify that assertion.

In other words, the assertion makes sense, based on the assumptions of the speaker. It is part of a whole. In order to understand the part, we must see where it fits into the whole, determine where the fault lies in the entire outlook of the speaker (if one is to be found) and judge the part accordingly.

For example, suppose someone tells you he believes religion should bring happiness. For a religious person with a different understanding of religion, this idea might not make sense, because he thinks religion is about obedience to God, and doing the right thing. “Happiness” doesn’t have a place in religion (at least not in this life time). To resolve the misunderstanding, you wouldn’t go anywhere by repeating the same statement. The two have different frames of reference. The statement doesn’t make sense to the listener, because it doesn’t have a place in his frame. It’s not part of his “big picture.” He would have understood what is being meant by the statement, but doesn’t think it is a correct assertion.

Now, if the speaker moves up one level, and presents his frame of reference, or a part of it that places the statement in a more meaningful context, then the discussion can move forward:

“Religion doesn’t bring God any benefit, but is for the benefit of mankind.”

“God created human nature, and His religion is compatible with their nature.”

These statements, while not necessarily sufficient to convince someone that the initial statement is true, offer a wider scope – and reveal a greater part of the picture – to understand what the speaker’s opinion is based on.

There are two things that need to be done in order to have fruitful discussions:

1-Reveal the frame of reference to the point of commonality: Most beliefs share a common overall frame, then branch off when dealing with more specific issues. In order to resolve misunderstandings, and to have a discussion on the level that matters, you need to begin with the belief you have in common. This defines a common frame of reference for both parties to use.

2- Question the validity of your own frame of reference: Your personal frame of reference might not be a valid one. Assess whether the other party’s frame of reference is more realistic than your own. This presents the problem of judging your frame of reference by the standard of your own frame of reference (which is why all religions are correct according to their followers)! What is important here is the willingness to accept that your frame of reference can be wrong and should be questioned.

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