The news has been pretty upsetting lately, hasn’t it?
No matter what you believe on all the highly politically charged issues that have come up over the last weeks and months, emotionally, we’re all responding the same way: with anxiety, fear, anger, and hopelessness.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
A Philosophical Perspective
By way of analogy, let me remind you of the philosophical difference between naturopathic and “traditional” medicine.
Traditional medicine addresses a problem head-on, with suppression. You have high blood pressure? There’s a pill for that. You have constipation? Let’s give you a laxative. You have anxiety? Let’s alter your neurotransmitters… etc.
There are three problems with this approach.
The first is that the body is a living system. It’s always going to try to seek balance—which means that in many cases, it will find a new “set point” in the opposite direction. So you have to increase the dose of the medication over time to achieve the same effect. (Homeopathy is the exact opposite of this approach, by the way.)
Problem two: the more aggressive or “heroic” the approach, the more collateral damage you can incur from the treatment itself. For instance, consider quinolone antibiotics. They’re the nuclear warheads of antibiotics, wiping out darn near everything—but that’s the problem. They kill the bad bacteria, yes, and that’s valuable in a critical or acute situation. But they also kill off the good flora, which can cripple the immune system. Also, they can cause significant mitochondrial dysfunction such that, depending upon the original problem, the cure can be worse than the disease.
Problem three: treating the symptom is not treating the problem. Sometimes symptom treatment is appropriate as part of the protocol, to give someone some immediate relief—but if that’s all we do, the problem doesn’t get fixed. It’s the equivalent of turning off the fire alarm if your house is on fire, and just going back to bed. The alarm wasn’t the problem itself: it was simply trying to alert you that the problem was there!
Stay with me, I’m getting to the point.
Conversely, naturopathic medicine is the philosophy that if you identify and remove obstacles to cure, and give the body the building blocks that it needs to heal, then within reason, healing will follow (assuming the case isn’t already too far gone). While sometimes the protocol might involve a brief symptomatic intervention, that isn’t the long-term strategy. The long term strategy is to get rid of the problem, so that symptomatic treatment becomes unnecessary. The trick, of course, is to figure out what the obstacle to cure is, and which building blocks are lacking. This requires finesse, not a sledgehammer.
Can you see how this philosophy might be extrapolated to other spheres, beyond medicine? Treat the problem with aggressive, direct interventions, and you’re likely to have backlash, collateral damage, and you won’t solve the problem; you’ll just create new problems, which in that paradigm will require ever more aggressive interventions. Next thing we know, you’re on a list of medications as long as your arm… so to speak.
Wisdom for the Ages
One way in which this approach has manifested lately is in our discourse with one another over what we each view as the appropriate solutions to the problems in our world today.
When Person A disagrees with Person B, and lashes out not against Person B’s belief but against Person B himself, it’s an aggressive and direct response. (It’s also a well-known logical fallacy, called the ad hominem fallacy: attacking the person, rather than the argument.)
Person B, of course, now gets defensive. His pride rears up, he digs his heels in to his position, equally unwilling to listen to or consider an alternative viewpoint when it’s delivered in such an insulting way. He responds in kind to Person A, attacking her directly (the backlash response. By the way, this awesome TED talk describes in more detail what this looks like. The points that really struck me were that 1) defensiveness always masks fear of some kind, and 2) when we become defensive, our IQs drop substantially!)
Then, of course, Person A responds with an even nastier personal attack. Anger escalates, and turns into hatred (collateral damage—which only worsens if this exchange occurs in a public forum where everybody and their brother gets involved!)
Finally, since both Person A and Person B are dealing in fallacy rather than in logic, the problem never gets solved. Now they just hate each other, equally convinced that the other is a complete moron.
King Solomon, reputedly the wisest man to ever live, would have called both Person A and Person B a “fool.”
Everyone thinks they are wise, and it’s the other guy who is a fool: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15), and “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). You can identify the fool, because by definition, he will not listen to wisdom: “fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). He only wants to express his own opinion, and not to truly understand (Proverbs 18:2). There is no point in attempting to reason with a person in this state: “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words” (Proverbs 23:9). He will either “rage” against you or “laugh” at you, and either way, “there is no peace” (Proverbs 29:9). This is what Jesus meant when he said, “do not cast your pearls [of wisdom] before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt 7:6).
You know a fool (or you know if you are being one!) by how he responds: “He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself. Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you” (Proverbs 9:7-8).
On the other hand, you know a wise person by how he responds: “rebuke a wise man, and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8), and “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning” (Proverbs 9:9). In other words, a wise man will consider your argument and hear you (or you him). This doesn’t mean changing minds necessarily, but it does mean considering the opposing viewpoint on its own merit. This can still get confusing, because as we all know, there’s evidence out there to support darn near any position, and “The first one to plead his case seems right, until another comes and cross-examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). But this is the nature of discourse. It’s why “plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). None of us has it all right. Wisdom isn’t about having all the right answers; it’s about having the humility to listen.
That is ultimately what makes the difference between a fool and a wise person. According to Solomon, fools are prideful (Proverbs 14:3, 14:16)—and isn’t it pride that triggers defensiveness in the first place, that makes us “have” to be right? On the other hand, humility is the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). There are really just the two options: either you think you have all the answers, or you recognize that there is an objective Truth outside of yourself. All of us put our trust in one or the Other. As Paul wrote, “If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool [i.e. acknowledge his weakness and deficiency], that he may be wise” (1 Corinthians 3:18).
I’d encourage watching the TED talk, and learning your personal telltale signs of defensiveness. Put a plan in place before the next time you get triggered of how you will identify that it’s happening, take a step back, subdue your pride, and address the other person in love–no matter how harsh they might be toward you. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
You might be dealing with a fool whose heels are so entrenched in his own worldview that there’s no point in reasoning with him, in which case, “answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him” (Proverbs 26:4). But, you never know—if you respond gently, you might lower his defenses. Solomon also said, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit” (Proverbs 26:5). How do you know which approach to take? This too requires wisdom—but if it’s obvious the other person is not listening, if he only “rages and laughs,” you have your answer. Let it go.
Above all, don’t become the fool yourself. Let’s turn away wrath, and seek understanding.