TED Conversations

Thomas Rogers

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what if we thought more practically?

my name is Thomas Rogers and I define myself as an engineer, usually this shoehorns me into a more practical and logical mindset when it comes to thinking and problem solving. normally this would infuriate me by trying to guess how i think and reason based off of my hobby and field of study, if it wasn't true.

what i am suggesting is that as a community we throw away our discussions about gay rights, religion, abortion, the jobs market and dare i say even media piracy in favor of getting the most glaring problems solved.

here in new york our roads are notoriously under paved, the last time my road that i live on was paved was about 2003 when i was all of 10 years old. to add to that many of our bridges are woefully under repaired and mismanaged, a good example of this is that there are easily five bridges within 5 miles of my town which are ranked in the 3rd percentile as most likely to catastrophically fail. our electrical infrastructure is wasting energy to shorts and a degrading grid. and finally our dams are literally worse than our roads when it comes to the danger of catastrophic failure.

to add to this we have a national debt that is beyond control and congress has not passed a budget in over two years. if i ever skipped my job i wouldn't even last a week! to add to that online there is a roaming statistic saying that more than 70% of Americans get more back from the government than they pay in taxes.

the biggest problem of it all is that this has been happening since the 60's and no one has stepped in to stop the apathy.

so here is my plea, let's stop arguing about how we should live and enjoy our future long enough to ensure that there will be a future to enjoy.

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    Jun 9 2012: Thomas,
    Good point. If we suspended arguments about the issues you mention, and treated each other with acceptence and loving kindness, perhaps we could work together to resolve some of the practical matters:>)
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      Jun 11 2012: We have lost the art of constructive, problem-solving debate/argument. The goal of argument should always be resolution of conflict by application of truth. Argument today is generally all heat (emotion, anger, prejudice) and no light (truth). Harvard Prof. Sandel has some great TED talks on this very subject. You are correct that what we do not do when we argue is work together toward an honest, truth-based solution. Imagine arguing (defending an opposing viewpoint) with someone and being deliberately accepting, loving and kind toward them all the while. Wow! If we knew how to argue we would not have to suspend arguing. I know it's a big "IF", but we should try. Thanks!
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        Jun 12 2012: I don't think the art of constructive, problem-solving debate/argument is "lost" Edward. I think it's simply hiding somewhere close by:>) You, for example, practice constructive, problem-solving discussions most of the time... I try to do that as well:>)

        I agree that many discussions are bogged down with emotion, anger, prejudice and the need to keep the ego in tack...no matter what! To have a discussion that is mutually enjoyable, sharing perspectives and seeking resolution, we need to let go of our need to be "right", and really listen to others in the conversation.

        I love Sandel's teaching skills and approach to discussing with mutual respect. He did a series (I think it was a whole semester of classes) on public TV a couple years ago, which I watched. I think his TED talks are part of that series. I love his gentle demeanor, and encouragement to look at all sides of a debate with an open mind and heart.

        When I say "suspend" arguments, I am refering to the angry, emotionally charged, prejudice way of arguing, in favor of discussions that are mutually accepting and respectful. My perception is that this is what Thomas is getting at with this discussion?
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          Jun 12 2012: I think Mr. Rogers' idea has to do with apathy. I asked him to clarify which page he is on so I can join him. I am waiting for his response to keep me from straying off-topic. Do you agree Colleen, that a meaningful, enlightening, mutually beneficial exchange is doomed by categorical pre-suppositions? For example, if my pre-supposition about Liberalism is that it, and all of its adherents, are void of anything honest or valuable, then I will not be a valued contributor to a conversation about Liberalism.
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        Jun 13 2012: Hi Edward,
        No, I don't percieve meaningful, enlightening, mutually beneficial exchanges to be "doomed" by categorical pre-suppositions. As humans, we probably all often have pre-suppositions. We all have certain thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions and beliefs based on information we have at any given time.

        I think/feel that a meaningful, mutually beneficial exchange depends on how open hearted/open minded we are when joining a discussion, and it also depends on our intent. Do we feel that OUR pre-suppositions are the ONLY truth? Do we want to convince others that we are "right"? Or are we honestly open to exploring another perspective?

        Using your example of liberalism...are we absolutely "stuck" with the idea that "all of its adherents are void of anything honest or valuable"? If we are convinced that our idea is the only "right" perspective, we may not be listening to other participants in the discussion? We may not honestly be willing to take in any new information? The statement you make as an example, is pretty broad. If I see a similar statement in a discussion, It usually gives me the information that the person making the statement is not very open-minded, so I may present my thoughts/feelings, and move on.

        In Thomas' introduction, he states..." so here is my plea, let's stop arguing about how we should live and enjoy our future long enough to ensure that there will be a future to enjoy".

        Look at some of the conversations that go round and round in circles...for example...god/no god...afterlife/no afterlife...science vs. spiritualism...religion/no religion...etc. etc. It is interesting to explore these topics to a certain degree, then, personally, I get tired of the circular discussions.

        The condition of our environment is an issue that impacts ALL of us regardless of what our other beliefs are. So that is a topic which is "practical" for all of us and we COULD come together on. I also understand that some folks do not think it is important.
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          Jun 13 2012: I have a categorical presupposition regarding any and all endlessly circling conversations. Those pre-supps prevent me from being a valued contributor to those conversations. See my point? If my pre-supp is that all women are inferior to all men I will not be a valued participant in a conversation about gender equality. I persist on this point because I think there is a natural tendency to overlook the power of prejudice.
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        Jun 14 2012: I also have a presupposition regarding any and all endlessly circling conversations Edward:>) There are a few folks who seem to like them, and when I see those conversations, with those folks, I very rarely enter the discussion. That is a choice we make.

        Perhaps you're right about a natural tendency to overlook prejudice...I'm not sure about that. It is not natural to overlook prejudice for me. I agree that there is power in prejudice, ONLY if we give it power. I tend to stay close to the topic with clarity. I served as a mediator, so that is what I know how to do with conversations, debates, questions, etc.

        Whether we have pre-supps or not, it is how we participate in the conversation that is the important piece to me. It's a choice in every moment. When we are open hearted/open minded and clear with ourself in conversations, I believe we can avoid the circular arguments that may sometimes include prejudice, and in so doing, perhaps address some of the practical issues, as Thomas suggests in this discussion.
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          Jun 14 2012: I agree. Thomas suggests we should think more practically. My concern is that such issues as unemployment, the rights of the unborn, morality, religious freedom, etc. are being portrayed as impractical, while potholes and enjoying the future are deemed practical. With that understanding of Mr. Roger's point I must disagree. America's problem is not inpracticality. But I do agree with Thomas when he says America's problem is apathy. Thank you Colleen!
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        Jun 14 2012: Edward,
        We seem to be interpreting the topic idea differently. In my perception, Thomas is suggesting we deal with the practical matters that impact all of us. When people are working together on issues, or projects, it sometimes causes them to come together, which facilitates a better understanding of each other, which is a better foundation to deal with other issues.

        Look what happens when there is a disaster for example. People come together right? They are dealing with the practical matters...rebuilding buildings, fixing roads, etc. What happens in that process? While working side by side on practical issues, they sometimes realize that they are more the same than different. We hear stories all the time about people volunteering to help after disasters, and finding it to be much more than the actual practical side. They start connecting with people who are from different backgrounds that they may not have ever connected with under "normal" circumstances. The victims of disaster become one with those who are working with them.

        We are both simply interpreting what Thomas' intention is with this topic, and hopefull he will pop in soon to set us straight!!!
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          Jun 14 2012: He must be out there somewhere! Maybe he is saying we should stop arguing about how we SHOULD live and focus on how to improve the way we DO live? Come in Thomas.
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    Jun 9 2012: Yes, that's correct, i would love too, but since we live in society, there is always a conflict between us.

    And to adapt your idea, maybe we personally do not have to argue, but simply to help others. In other words, we argue not to justify but to improve. Perhaps this will reduce the frequency of the debate and further perhaps by practicing more than arguing, we will learn naturally and increase the desire for cooperation and enjoyment.

    If it can not be done in large areas, it may be done on a small scale in our environment.

    In essence, your idea is simple. In practice it will provide excellent impact.
  • Jun 23 2012: [TR] the biggest problem of it all is that this has been happening since the 60's

    Seriously? Not before then? Only since then?

    Practical thinking... do you mean that this notion is on all fours with pragmatism? Esoteric thought (navel gazing?) may well be a luxury too far when pressing problems are present. On the other hand why should we not consider the precision and beauty in listening to a piece of Bach?

    Issues that you would "throw away" (not discuss) are worth consideration too. The societies which we find ourselves living in may want to apportion different priorities to those issues which you think merit higher or lower importance. For example, the roads in New York don't exert any effect on my life and so I am disinterested in the problem created for you; by them.

    One man's glaring problem is another man's trivial inconsequence. How will you square that circle, even in your native New York? I would suggest that we could start a discussion about the usefulness of roads in New York and you may be surprised to find that the reliance on the internal combustion engine and fossil fuels is a huge mistake.

    As an engineer, you could be making some sort of compelling case for the use of hydrogen fuel cells, monorails, maglev powered trains, moving walkways, teleportation or even just working from home and eliminating commuting as a way of life.

    Discussion is the lifeblood of progress... for argument hones our thoughts and refines our perceptions. Karl Popper is credited with stating the following:

    "The growth of knowledge depends entirely on disagreement"

    I tend to agree with this proposition.
  • Jun 13 2012: Peter Senge wrote, "Structure dictates behaviour." and my observations suggest to me that this is true. Our form of democracy is seriously flawed and not very democratic. This leads to the dysfunction you are concerned about. To expect change without changing the structure of our social and political systems is naive. Unfortunately democracy, as practiced in the US (and Canada) puts a lot of power in the hands of unelected party operatives. Even local elections are to some degree governed by entrenched financial interests.
    The best solution I have encountered is described here: http://www.gaiandemocracy.net/
    Until the people demand accountability and get more active in their structures of governance things will not change for the better. Look at the gridlock that Republican politicians have created in your country. Their focus is power, not cooperation for the betterment of the country. There will always be a sleazy pragmatism to a two party system. By damaging your opponent's ability to make positive changes you present yourself as a credible alternative without actually having to go into any detail of how you would govern.
    Imagine a government where all elected individuals made up the government and had an obligation to work together, rather than in camps representing opposing ideologies. I would be grateful if you and others followed the link and commented. Thank you.
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    Jun 12 2012: i think the problem is distance. as of now, roads are maintained by a local government agency. they are organized by some local government subdivision, that are appointed by the local government representatives, who are elected.

    now help me, who to vote for in order for the entire process to result in an able body that builds proper roads cost effectively?

    so maybe we need some more direct route than this.
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    Jun 10 2012: It is not obvious to me, Mr. Rogers, how potholes in your neighborhood are among the "most glaring problems", while such issues as unemployment,etc. are not. I guess your intended meaning for the phrase "most glaring" is key here. Are you proposing that "we" focus primarily, if not exclusively, on trying to "enjoy our future"? If your Idea posting were limited to three words, would they be, "stop the apathy"? With three more words you would have a TED Talk! http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/sebastian_wernicke_1000_tedtalks_6_words.html