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The Forgotten Behaviors

August 27th, 2010 · No Comments

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

The amount of spiritedness in discussion today is worrying.  While it’s likely nothing new, the speed at which information can travel causes more discourse then dialogue.  This is more worrying when one looks at the history of rhetoric and what groups/people provided later generations with a solid framework for rhetoric.

Let’s start with the Greeks (although one could start with the ancient Egyptians, Akkadians, or the Ancient Chinese, but we’ll start with the Greeks) as the Greeks were amazing people for the time.  Aside from coming up with the structure for Philosophy that led to  Logic and The Scientific Method,  the Greeks also loved Rhetoric.  When I say Rhetoric, I mean the actual art of swaying observers/listeners to you.  This was a fine art that involved speaking, thinking and being silent.  There was no need to speak over the other and a certain amount of ability was required to participate.  This type of discussion revolved around swaying the audience to you, as opposed to driving the audience from the other.  Today’s world seems fixated on rhetoric to create discourse or obscuring the truth, while classical philosophers  believed and practiced the contrary: the skilled use of rhetoric was essential to the discovery of truths, because it provided the means of ordering and clarifying arguments.

Let us look at this through religion:

The three Abrahamic  religions (or the two Judo-Christian and Islam, however you want to say it) all explicitly state arguing for the sake of discourse is frowned upon (sinful even).  All three religions to state one should say his/her words and not push the matter.  Starting with Judaism (taken from Rabbi Joel Fleekop):

At times – as for judges on a court – thorough debate is even required. But Judaism does, importantly, differentiate between two types of arguments.

Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 5:17 teaches,

“Every argument for the sake of heaven will in the end be of permanent value, but every argument not for the sake of heaven will not endure. Which is an argument for the sake of heaven? The argument between Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai. And which is an argument not for the sake of heaven? The argument of Korach and his followers.”

In his commentary on the Mishnah, Meiri, a 13th century Cantalonian rabbi elucidates what makes the disagreements between Hillel and Shammai – B’shem Shamayim – for the sake of heaven, and why the arguments raised by Korach were Lo b’shem shamayim – not for the sake of heaven. Meiri explains, “When Hillel and Shammai debated, one of them would render a decision and the other would argue against it, out of a desire to discover the truth, not out of cantankerousness or a wish to prevail over his fellow. In contrast, Korach and his company come to undermine Moses . . . out of envy and contentiousness and ambition for victory.”

We see two clear forms of rhetoric:  rhetoric of benefit and rhetoric of discourse.  The rhetoric of discourse is bent on creating a polarized victory based on some form of greed/selfish desires.  We also see how this type of discourse can create distrust and animosity within one group.  Finally, one should seek the truth even if the truth proves himself/herself  incorrect or wrong.

Moving to the Christian tradition (in the Bible):

2 Timothy 2:24

24And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,

Matthew 7:1-6

1Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

6Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

Here we see the similar concept.  First, in Timothy, the Bible states to be patient and not quarrelsome.  It does not say to avoid discussion/arguement/debate.  It simply says be patient.  Part of being patient is allowing others to speak and not attacking others.

These verses in Matthew tend to be misinterpreted quite often (I’ve written on this before: http://muhamad.net/?p=22#more-22).  If we look at the two above verses together: the first is about using rhetoric for good.  The second set states do not LOOK for faults in others without first examining yourself.  This shows not to be instigative when in discussion with others.  There is no shame in an argument/discussion/etc, but let it remain on a certain level of civility.

Finally, Islam:

Quran 004:148
Allah does not love the public utterance of hurtful speech unless (it be) by one to whom injustice has been done; and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.

A man asked Ahmad bin Hanbal, “If I am in a majlis (seated discussion/lecture) and in it a sunna (activities of the Prophet)  is mentioned, should I teach it to someone who does not know it?” “Tell the sunna, but do not argue over it.” The man then repeated his question, on which Ahmad said, “I do not see you except an arguer.”

Volume 4, Book 56, Number 759:

Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr:

The Prophet never used bad language neither a “Fahish nor a Mutafahish. He used to say “The best amongst you are those who have the best manners and character.” (See Hadith No. 56 (B) Vol. 8  )

Here we see similar things as above.  There should be an amount of civility in discussion, unless an injustice has been carried out. We also see it is best to avoid helping people who only seek information to create discourse in a public setting (known as “not feeding the troll”  in today’s time)

We see the BEST of people, from all three faiths, is he who shows patience and restraint when engaging others.  The problem is there is too much spiritedness directed at the wrong things, and this spiritedness can easily lead to anger in any setting.

John Morley (24 December, 1838 – 23 September, 1923, a British Liberal statesman, writer and newspaper editor) said it best:

“You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.”

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