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The Value of Being Objective

Posted: Thu, January 03, 2013 | By: Special Guest



by Sam Keene

Why should we think and act objectively? Why is it better than thinking and acting subjectively? Should we encourage other people to think objectively? Are there problems in thinking objectively?

If I were to ask the reader the question, ‘Is X selfish?’ I doubt that the best critic to answer that question is X. It is only too easy to find flaws in others, yet find oneself flawless. This simple and pervasive social phenomenon will, with almost complete certainty, be experienced by every human being at some point in his or her life. Such bias can also be found in other questions; ‘Is X more selfish than Y?’ – ‘Does X do more good than Y?’ It is well known that when addressing many questions, the wording of that question can affect our answer. This effect is certainly seen more when the question causes someone to think on a highly personal and emotional level – such as, criticizing themselves, or someone they love. People’s tendency to make the question personal does not help either. 

When asked, ‘Is incest morally wrong’ – many people respond; ‘Yes, it’s disgusting’. However they do not think incest is morally wrong because it is disgusting, rather they imagine themselves in the act with their immediate family. The result is a quick, blunt, negative response. Whether incest is truly morally wrong or not is irrelevant, the point is that the person came to their answer because of their emotional response, not by detaching themselves and taking an objective, unbiased approach.

It is in observations like this that I have become increasingly more convinced that the vast majority of people are limiting their own intellectual ability and potential and future achievements – by not training themselves to be objective. Subjective thinking is defined here as thinking which is influenced heavily by our emotional response and individual biases. By allowing ourselves to become content by selectively remaining in our own ‘comfort zone’ we retard not only our own potential, but others as well by providing them with the same selective comfort and subjective validation as they do to us.

A question rises; are those who are objective susceptible to the same group mentality? Surely those who surround themselves with other objective, progressive and intellectual thinkers fall into the same trap? I strongly belief that thinking in an objectively, non-emotional manner is superior to thinking in a subjective, emotional one. This instantly brings forth feelings of elitism – that people who think like this are more intellectually superior and honest to the subjective, emotional thinkers. Holding this elitist mind-set causes me to attach value to those who also think objectively. Especially if these people also have the same opinions as mine, and when someone who I value on equal or higher intellectual footing agrees with me, the same kind of validation occurs in people who are more emotional, subjective thinkers.

The answer is ‘Yes, but only partly’, being objective does cause some of the same group mentality shown in subjective thinkers. However I think there is a key difference that must be mentioned. I contend that subjective thinking retards intellectual potential, not only because of the individual’s way of thinking, but also because of the group mentality that comes with this – I do not believe the same thing is true for both individual and groups of objective thinkers. This is because the fundamental concepts of being objective prevents much of the negative aspects found in subjective groups.

By nature, objective thinking invokes logic and rationality – it is a reliable and consistent way to achieve truth and find solutions. The same cannot be said for subjective, emotional thinking. The reader only needs to look at the current world (or its history) to find examples where when subjective, emotional thinkers are given power to make decisions affecting others – there is a decisive gap in the amount of good that there could be if the decision was approached by an objective mind.

It is because of this (the invocation of rationality) that I think that the mentality found in objective thinkers can be reasonable and accepted. I argue it is not an issue when an objective thinker gains a healthy sense of elitism and arrogance. I believe it is warranted and a part of being human. This elitism and arrogance is generally held back from being destructive by constant debate and challenge by other objective critics, even thinkers in the same group or ideology (an example would be my high confidence in my atheistic views). On the other hand, when we look at the group mentality found in subjective thinkers, there is not just a healthy arrogance, it is warped into a strong sense of vanity, narrow mindedness, closed mindedness and often, bigotry. In my personal experience groups of people like this often resort to heavily emotional based replies, often loaded with insults. They are unwilling to engage in debate simply because they are so sure of their view there is no point to engage in dialogue.

The most prominent point is that objective thinkers, especially those who like to self-analyze, know their own biases and are able to keep them in check. With subjective thinkers this is rarely found, and when the point is raised, the thinker generally ignores it. It is this high level of unwillingness to improve oneself which we have all come across – whether in the form of a radical feminist, or a homophobic priest, or an islamphobic american.

We should encourage others to think objectively, if nothing else, to increase another human being’s potential. By thinking objectively it becomes increasingly unlikely that people will hold sexist, racist, irrational and illogical views. I say that this, unequivocally, does sufficiently enough good to our race to warrant its active support.



Comments:

I would just like to say that I found your article very true and interesting. It astounds me how subjective peoples thoughts are when it comes to themselves.
I pride myself on being objective weather is it hurts or helps me, and when people don’t have that line of thinking I find it bizarre.
Last night I did evaluations for employees at work. You can not imagine how argumentative and dishonest people are with themselves when it comes to their own performance. I take that back, sure you can thats why you wrote the article. Absolutely amazing. I would say if the numbers were crunched they would show 90% of people view their performance favorably regardless of the truth.

By Paul J on Jan 24, 2013 at 9:22am

Nice post. Very gentle and thoughtful, but powerful content.

I referenced it in my movie-inspired post on tips for dealing with stress:

@dan_steer

By @dan_steer on Apr 26, 2013 at 2:19pm


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