Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair

#15: Encouraging Open and Honest Feedback

December 27, 2023 Jarrod Blair Episode 15
Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair
#15: Encouraging Open and Honest Feedback
Show Notes Transcript

In this final episode of 2023, I share some reflections on the year as well as my appreciation for the Virtue Vibes podcast. 

Afterwards, I discuss how the philosophic spirit gets crushed by certain bad practices in conversations, like when we make people feel like they’re walking on eggshells, or when modern day antiracists throw loose accusations of “racist!” around, causing white people to withhold their honest thoughts when talking about race-related issues. I then discuss two reasons why we should encourage open and honest feedback. This section is a re-release of a guest appearance I made on Micro-Digressions: A Philosophy Podcast with Spencer Case. 

Outro music: "City Lights (Chill Lo-Fi)" by Monument Music on Pixabay

Intro music: "Lofi Heavy Chill Bass & Keyboard" by Phill Dillow on Pixabay

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Email: jarrod@virtuevibes.org

Hello and welcome back to Virtue Vibes. I’m your host, Jarrod Blair, and this is the final episode of the year 2023! Overall, it’s been a great year for me, and I’m really happy that was able to get this Virtue Vibes podcast up and running. I had been wanting to start a podcast for a while, but I think I was being held back by a blend of fear, perfectionism, and doubts about whether my mental health had returned enough to be able to do it well.  But back in May, I finally jumped in and released my first episodes. I didn’t know much about producing a podcast then, and I still have a lot of room for improvement, but I’m soo soo glad I jumped into it and started the learning process. I’m hoping to keep making improvements, and I’m excited to see where we can take this podcast in the year 2024. Thanks so much for being a part of this journey.  

I also wanted to share how grateful I am to have this outlet for expressing myself in an honest way. There’ve been times in my life where I felt so lonely and isolated, because I felt like I couldn’t share honestly what was on my mind. And that’s just the worst. When you think or observe something about the world, but you feel like you can’t talk about it with anyone because they either don’t care, or because they'll react badly, it makes you want to just hide that part of you, and you just feel, trapped, left to dwell on your own thoughts alone. It sucks, and it’s such a lonely feeling. But when you finally find someone who will listen and give you room to express yourself, and to process through it with you using their own unique perspective, and perhaps even share that they've noticed similar things, it’s such a relief! It feels like you're no longer alone.  

This is one reason why this podcast has been so therapeutic for me. I love being able to express thoughts that I’ve never fully expressed before, and I love it when my listeners reach out to me and share their thoughts on topics I’ve talked about. It makes me think that I’m not the only one interested in these questions. It makes me feel like I’m not alone. So thank you so much for being a part of that, and I’m looking forward to what the future has in store for the Virtue Vibes family.  

So the rest of this episode is going to be a re-release of a segment I did on another philosophy podcast called Micro-Digressions with host Spencer Case. I posted about this appearance on social media, so I apologize if you’re one of my listeners who’s already heard this segment, but I wanted to re-release it here as well so that all of my listeners could get a chance to hear it. Spencer asked me to make a rant about any topic I wanted, and so I chose to talk about how the philosophical spirit gets crushed by certain bad practices in conversations, like when we make people feel like they’re walking on eggshells, or when modern day antiracists throw loose accusations of “racist!” around, causing white people to withhold their honest thoughts when talking about race related issues. I hope you enjoy it:  

 

---interlude--- 

 

Ya know what really grinds my gears Spencer? When people act in a way that crushes the philosophic spirit of others. I’m a philosopher who loves open and honest conversations. They help me to learn about how the world works, and they give me an opportunity to try and genuinely convince other people of my views, while remaining open to being genuinely convinced by them. These conversations are one of the most powerful tools we have available to us to improve our world. This is why is so frustrating to me when I encounter so many people who have had the philosophic spirit beat out of them in one way or another by some bad actor. These bad actors ruin the philosophical climate for the rest of us, and I often find myself having to try and undo the damage that they have done in order to have more productive conversations. I have two particular examples of this that I want to talk about today.  

The first example is that person who, when talking about controversial topics, or even in smaller disagreements, makes others feel like they’re walking on eggshells around them. They will easily lash out in anger when a disagreement arises, and they are quick to resort to coercion, manipulation, or other non-rational pressures in order to seemingly “win” an argument or to get others to shut up. Perhaps you’ve experienced someone like this yourself, maybe it’s an Aunt you see at holiday gatherings who everybody knows will flip a lid when anyone disagrees with her on a hot button topic. People around her are made to feel like they’re walking on eggshells, and so instead of sharing their honest responses to the topic at hand, they just kind of shrink inside themselves. Prolonged exposure to such a person can really numb the philosophic spirit, and it makes people want to avoid tough philosophic inquiries altogether.  

Another example is in the effect that the modern day so-called anti-racists are having on many white people, and others, when discussing race-related issues. I think some white people have been shellshocked by seeing quick and loose accusations of “racism” being thrown around, or perhaps they've been told that their ideas on these topics just aren’t as valuable because of their race, and that they should stay quiet and just listen to black people when these topics come up, so they just shrink inside themselves. Whatever the cause, the end result is that the quality of that interaction is greatly diminished. So, as a philosopher who happens to be black, I find myself having to disarm a lot of white people (and others) and assure them that they are welcomed to talk openly and honestly with me. I don’t want the conversation to be some kind of therapy session, where I talk and white people are supposed to just listen. I want to engage directly with their thoughts and their questions and their objections, while I’m also sharing my own. That’s what a genuine conversation on these issues between two adults should look like.  

And sure, black people, or any other social group in question, could have some relevant insight into what it’s like to be in their shoes. But once those facts are on the table, we can come and reason together about what we should do in light of those facts.  

So, in an effort to improve these interactions, I want to share two reasons why we should encourage open and honest dialogue. These two reasons are not only helpful for these race debates, but also for that person who makes others feel like they're walking on eggshells when talking about hot button issues, causing them to withhold their honesty. 

The first is simple, and you've probably heard it plenty of times if you’re listening to this podcast. We should encourage openness and honesty in others because we might be able to learn something valuable. That white person who is afraid to weigh in on the state of black Americans might be able to make a really good point about wealth inequality that we haven’t thought of, or the person disagreeing with you about abortion might say something that makes you realize they’re not as dumb as your preferred news outlet said they were. Learning something new from someone you completely disagreed with is one of the most interesting parts of leading a good philosophic life. But again, you’ve probably heard this a lot, and I’m hopefully preaching to the choir here.  

A second reason, though, to encourage openness and honesty is one that I think doesn’t get talked about as often, which is this; Encouraging openness and honesty not only lets you learn from them, but it also creates the conditions that best enables them to learn from you. Honest responses and reactions help you to understand who exactly you’re talking to. You gain insight into their particular beliefs, and their particular reasons for holding those beliefs, which let’s you develop the conversation in a way that is most helpful in addressing where they’re at. Obviously, not all white people think the same way, not all black people think the same way. Not all trans activists think the same way, and not all who oppose gender ideology think the same way. So if you bring your preconstructed rant and then don’t give them space to respond in an open and honest way, you run the risk of missing them entirely. And if your goal is to genuinely convince them of something, and you don’t have their specific, particular concerns in mind when talking with them, then you’re more likely to fail at convincing them.  

Furthermore, on a more emotional level, if you don’t make them feel heard, and if they leave the conversation feeling like they couldn’t get a word in, and that they weren’t valued as a participant in the conversation, then you’ll have little chance of convincing them in a deep and meaningful way.  

It might feel great that you got to speak your mind, or maybe you feel triumphant in destroying them in a disagreement, or maybe you’ve successfully silenced them from sharing their awful views out loud, but crucially, you won’t have genuinely convinced them of anything. You might have even made things worse, and left them feeling embittered and entrenched even further in their views. They might shrink away in the moment, but their ideas will continue to govern their lives, and those ideas will be passed down to their children, and those ideas will continue to have a life of their own, and perhaps even come back with a vengeance. Your failure to address their specific concerns and to make them feel heard and valued will stop you from being able to genuinely convince them.  

Alternatively, if you encourage people to be open and honest with you, and you address their particular concerns, and you leave them feeling heard and valued in the conversation, then you’re much more likely to be able to genuinely convince them. And if they’re genuinely convinced, then long after the pressures of that particular conversation are gone, their updated ideas will remain. These new ideas will govern their lives, and they’ll be passed down to their children, and they’ll take on a life of their own.  

I understand that we can’t always rely on the power of rational convincing, but it’s just so heartbreaking and frustrating for me to see how quickly people throw this option out the window in favor of more primal tactics, like coercion, intimidation, or manipulation. Hopefully the reasons I’ve discussed can encourage open and honest dialogue and help to make genuine convincing a central priority. 

Genuine convincing is one of the most powerful tools we have for bringing about positive and lasting change in the world, and we would do well to remember how to converse in a way that makes room for it, especially with talking about controversial issues. 

Thanks for letting me talk about this topic with you today. If you can’t tell, it’s one that I’m really passionate about. I love thinking about how to have productive conversations, and I think it’s one of the most important topics we can work on because the poor quality of our conversations is one of those problems that gets in the way of us solving other problems. So, if we get this right, then we’ll be able to get a lot of other things right too.