September 1997, Volume 5 Nr.1, Issue 49
I often have conversations with people of a political, religious, educational and philosophical nature. It seems natural for me to gravitate to a dialogue of inquiry, discussion, debate and learning. Often, this gravitation creates a difficulty of intolerance for the trivial and mundane.
Small talk has its place. However, the end of the twentieth century finds us less willing to participate in meaningful dialog. We prefer talk of football, hunting, food, extraterrestrials, horoscopes, shopping, the weather, etc. Almost anything of little consequence will do. We are afraid to engage each other fearing even the possibility of disagreement. Thus we practice a self-imposed censorship by virtue of an unaware political correctness.
Political correctness has become part of our unconscious mental modus operandi. Subtly over time, political correctness has altered whatever divergent thinking we were capable of into to a convergent thinking where we are pleasantly safe always.
Political correctness deserves credit for acknowledging and countering the excesses of mindless prejudice. Its attempt at achieving a more balanced political playing field was a good thing. Unfortunately, political correctness has created an excess of intolerance. In its most severe form, political correctness may be defined as being,
It is not the idea nor the practice of political correctness itself that is the problem. Rather, it is political correctness, taken to excess, that corrupts and devalues the gains that come from its good place of its origin.
On US college campuses, many professors report that it is difficult or impossible to debate current contentious issues without offending someone, being charged with sexism, racism or homophobia. In the Center of the American Experiment Luncheon Forum, entitled, Political Correctness and Academic Freedom at the University of Minnesota, held in Minneapolis on October 26, 1994, President Mitch Pearlstein spoke of history professor Joseph Altholz,
Pearlstein suggests a double risk, each as destructive the other. Excessive political correctness fosters the self regulation of offensive thought while political correctness' complete elimination percolates prejudice and bigotry. Neither is conducive to divergent thinking and the exchange of dialogue that leads to understanding and problem solving.
Almost fifteen years ago, I taught junior high school science in Eatontown, New Jersey. My teaching assignment included five classes of up to twenty-eight seventh graders. For seven of the eleven years that I worked at the Memorial School, my colleague in the next classroom taught the other five seventh grade science classes. He was my antithesis. I had (and have) shoulder length hair and a full beard while he was (and is) clean shaven. At times, I swore he shaved after lunch. While I almost always wore jeans and sweatshirts, he often wore three piece suits. I preferred to spend my weekends picketing the local military establishment while he patrolled the boardwalk of a beach resort hired as a part-time police officer. My teaching style leaned toward the free-flow and exchange of ideas through heightened interaction while his instilled the fear of stepping over the line and silence While we were quite opposite in many ways, from our politics and teaching to our vision of how to raise a family, we were friends.
At some point, Denny (not his real name) and I (and a few other teachers) decided to attend graduate school together. On several occasions we experimented with the higher educational system attempting to stir controversy, enliven debate, altering the climate of the dialogue. We attempted to get the most from our graduate school experience.
We attended many of the same classes. On one occasion, in a history of education class, from the first class session, we pretended not to know each other. We sat on opposite sides of the classroom. Within a few weeks we were taking opposing viewpoints on controversial issues that were not necessarily specific to our character. That is, Denny would take the extreme liberal point of view, while I took the extreme conservative. In other words, we adopted each other's belief systems. We then proceeded to stimulate debate to see what would happen.
Interestingly, the students never knew what we were up to. Eventually, the professor called us to his office one afternoon and wanted to know what we were doing? When we told him, he was amused and agreed to participate in the "experiment". It was a wonderful class, highly unlikely to happen today.
Denny and I were always willing to engage in dialogue, discussion and debate with each other or anyone else. While we seldom agreed, we conversed about topics that would often take us into interesting and intriguing subjects where we could learn from each other, and from the pursuit of inquiry and where it led us.
Our personalities were alike at least in the sense that we were both divergent thinkers. Rather than just coming to an answer or conclusion, we freely had the capacity to expand our horizons around the topics, issues and contradictions of the original question and our findings.
A new question or topic of discussion opens a portal into a dimension where knowledge begins to flow and satisfaction comes from partaking in it. This is how we increase the probability and potential of new knowledge. The excitement of learning something new, of perceiving an idea from a different point of view stimulates the divergent thinker. Divergent thinking in turn, stimulates the perception of different points of view.
Again The Choice
Nature may seed divergent thinking while nurture stimulates the process. However, given that to some degree we have a choice, why would we limit our mind to only the comfortable, the familiar and the closed-in confines of what we already know? Why would we stop our quest for knowledge, taking for granted that that which we already know as enough (or even that it is true, correct or unchangeable)? Why would we put a lid on learning something new? The choice is always available.
Perhaps, our educational institutions have pigeon-holed our courses of study to such an extent that we have institutionalized convergent thinking. We come to conclusions or solutions that are "milk toast" in nature. That is, they suffice as non-provocative affirmations of what everyone would rather accept.
What is even more alarming, is the prospect that we may have normalized non-thinking. That is, we believe that getting the correct answer is all there is. Thus, science is studied apart from social studies and mathematics, while English and philosophy seem far removed from physics and current events. Professors may specialize in their topic but do not know how it relates to other areas of study and the rest of the world. They do not care to know neither do they explore much beyond their own field of narrow interests.
Placing a cap on the natural expansive potential of our mind imposes political correctness on our memosphere. Here is where divergent thinking comes to and end. However, this need not be.
We have either forgotten, or are out of the practice of making expansive memospheric decisions. Recently, in one of my advanced algebra classes, I spoke of the mental pain we feel when studying and trying to understand a new principle or acquiring a mathematical skill. It may be uncomfortable to invest mental energy, over time, on a difficult concept. After all, without the discomfort, we could assume that no new learning takes place, or that the learning is incorrect. The rewards of learning, however, reinforce our self-esteem, quickly allowing us to forget any discomfort. While many of us prefer the comfort of the status quo or non-choosing, divergent thinking requires otherwise.
In the quest for finding answers, there exists the danger of pseudo-divergence. What is called maximum divergent thinking may actually be super open-mindedness and ultra-expansive consciousness to such a degree as to render the mind open and susceptible to nonsense in the name of divergent thinking. Pseudoscience often uses the language of science to make itself sound credible while at the same time misunderstanding or worse, deliberately twisting the meaning of scientific terms and principles.
While ultra rigidity in thought brings about inflexibility of action, ultra malleability in thinking leads to a hole in the head where any idea no matter how farfetched quickly becomes credible under the guise of open mindedness and free-thinking.
Last week, I received a glossy, slick produced full-color, multi-paged brochure announcing "A Two-Day Symposium" sponsored by The Unarius Academy of Science. Unarius was founded in 1954 and stands for Universal Articulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science. Entitled, In Advance of the Landing - 2001, the brochure states,
I will leave it up to the reader to determine the level of divergent thinking required in the pursuit of knowledge pertaining to the symposium. On Sunday, October 12, 1997, the plenary session will include, A Contact with a Space Brother.
The website, Cults of the UFO, lists Unarius as "one of the five to visit". You wouldn't want to miss,
Divergent thinking is open to other options while emphasizing the individual. It allows for other possibility. Perhaps, this is why fundamentalism prefers convergence. Divergent thinking however, defaults to non-thinking, when the questions asked are irrelevant to the learning at hand or the knowledge sought. The questions and the answers both require assessment which, when applied correctly lead to further questioning, response and assessment. Divergent thinking does not mean divergence from thinking. (I am not attending the Unarius Symposium in San Diego).
Human beings are quite adept at setting up mental barriers. Barriers are mindsets that the ego sets up in order to protect itself from a perceived or real unpleasantry or threat. Mental barriers stand in the way of divergent thinking and require a determination to recognize the causes of the roadblocks we maintain in the mind. Often, there is an aspect of what we are about to find out that makes us insecure. Rather than obtain that uncomfortable knowledge, we prevent ourselves from finding out what it is.
The most divergent thinker I know is our son, Dylan. He questions everything, including the questions he questions. Dylan is classified as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). It is obvious that he has an incredible capacity to look into things, to think divergently while examining multiple possibilities for explanations. Clinically diagnosed neurological differences, combined with high creativity has made life in a typical school setting very difficult for him. Teresa Gallagher, an ADD researcher in Canada, states,
Gallagher further states that many behavioral problems associated with ADD stem from the individual's boredom and their placement into situations where the expectations are unrealistic and incompatible with the environment. Often, too little is expected and the opportunity for creativity is harshly minimized, if not stifled and penalized.
Dylan no longer attends a traditional school. Instead, he has a one-on-one tutor and a full-time paraeducator. He studies in various locations which include a college library, computer center, American Sign Language peer-based classroom and he has a unique daily opportunity for the encouragement of divergent thinking and creativity.
Imagine an individual, especially a youngster, who recognizes that there are negative consequences for acting upon their creativity. Setting up mental barriers in order to protect themselves, there exists a stifling experience of almost impossible proportions. This is the ultimate mental barrier. Divergent thinkers feel frustration in situations where the operative word is mundane.
Temperament is the characteristics of our personality. Some suggest that we are born with a particular temperament. Instead, I prefer to believe that we may inherit a proclivity for specific temperament.
While doing research for this issue, I came across the Keirsey Temperament Sorter (1978). Out of curiosity I took the on-line personality test which reports results according to the Myers-Briggs system. The test compares:
The test results reveal that I am of the personality type ENTJ, that is extrovert, intuitive, thinking and judging. 5% of the world is ENTJ while the most common category are ESFJ, ESFP, ESTJ and ESTP, with 13% each. The temperaments which include the ADD types are INFP, ENFP, ENTP and INTP with a few NJ.
There is no perfect or normal temperament. Instead, there are differing temperaments within a society. That being said, each of us functions best when the external environment is more in line with what we are. I cannot help but imagining a society which encourages, nourishes, cherishes and rewards divergent thinking and the associated temperaments seeing them as resources rather than potential problems.
While temperament may be a fixed personality characteristic, our thinking style can be a choice. Perhaps, those of us who convergently think, can choose to diverge from time-to-time and not go overboard in our convergence. Conversely, those of us who think divergently, can converge somewhat, especially when confronted with a problem or situation that requires focused undistracted attention. Extremes of each are seldom useful. Avoidance of the other thinking method makes us one-dimensional while non-thinking makes us boring. I cannot, however, help but fall passionately into the operative side of divergent thinking.
Passion is a commitment to a point of view, ideology, belief, etc., that engenders just fervor followed by action. Presently, JeanneE is reading Margot Adler's book, Heretics Heart. This book is written with passion. Adler discusses her life, participation and commitment to the events of the sixties. Heretics Heart is not a rewrite of history. Rather, it is a celebration of the divergent thinking that, which among many other accomplishments, brought about the Civil Rights Movement, the Free Speech Movement, the Anti-War movement (which helped end the war) and the resignation of Richard M. Nixon. It was a time when the passion of hopefulness was contagious.
A lack of passion lulls us into submission by the status quo. "Things are just fine", we might say. We then tend to substitute, "how good we have it" for "how much better it can be." With a little divergent thinking, things can be better. With a little passion, they might be much better.
The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe."
Thinking is a momentary dismissal of irrelevancies.
The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful is the cause of half their errors.
Cults of the UFO. "Unarius and Ruth
Gallagher, Teresa. Born to Explore. "The
Other Side of ADD."
Hasselmo and Maitland. "Political Correctness
and Academic Freedom at the University of Minnesota."
Painter, Jo. Questioning Techniques for Gifted
Students. "Divergent Thinking."
"The Kiersey Temperament Sorter."
Unarius Academy of Science, In Advance of the
Landing - 2001.. "A Two-Day Symposium. 145 South Magnolia Avenue., El Cajon, CA
© 1997 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski