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Conventional Wisdom


When I have asked a question, depending on the subject, it seems the majority of people I’ve met give me an answer of derision. It seems as if, in addition to the answer, they purport their demeanor with it. Adding the two together they have a concealed intention. When this happens I can’t help but think that, also, the majority of the people that give me those kinds of answers are not only ornery, but they have a great deal of conventional wisdom. Why might they do this?

Conventional wisdom is the process of going about ones life, not learning for yourself, but believing what you see and what everybody else tells you collectively. Then that person thinks it makes sense and they adopt this wisdom as their own. Then, because this conventional wisdom sounds intelligent, and everybody else believes it, they repeat it in order to make a point to be on top of an argument. However, you’re purpose might have been to have an intelligent dialogue. To the conventional wisdom holders it might very well be an argument. To the person seeking an intelligent dialogue and wisdom the other person, seeking an argument, might seem to err on the side of pride-fullness and become defensive.

The process of learning how to accept conventional wisdom is somewhat chicken hearted because, on the other hand it takes effort to learn for yourself what is true and what is not. It takes a bit of courage to listen, read, and learn another persons viewpoint and then, based on your own research, say I do not think so and here is why. If there is wisdom to beget from another it will be explained shortly. So, here is to the “fact checkers”.

Henry David Thoreau gives an example by saying “One farmer says to me, ‘You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with;’ and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with the raw material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plough along in spite of every obstacle.” This can be taken as conventional wisdom. The reason being is that the farmer has probably spent his leisure with other farmers speculating on what they have not, for themselves, researched in depth. Some wisdom comes from trial and error and begets experience. But when a person has had enough of conventional wisdom they become fed up because they might have tried their own experiment on the conventional wisdom they’ve received and it has failed time and again. They begin to wake up.

There might be another reason for an individual to want an education on how conventional wisdom works. Again, Thoreau explains “I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travelers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.”

It seems as if the travelers might be looking for mischief whenever they find it or think there is an opportunity for it. Thoreau might have or might not have lost his animals, but I believe this is his experiment. Having either of those three animals, being lost, it would be absurd to assume that they could be found simply by asking a total stranger. This is similar to the society in which we live today in some respects. After Thoreau asks the question the stranger has one of two choices. They either have a genuine concern or they immediately begin to fashion a scheme of mischief to where they think they could play on the gullibility of Thoreau in asking such an absurd question. This depends on the person because some people receive satisfaction and a feeling of control in doing this. However, depending on the answer one can gather which choice the stranger has made such as being anxious to recover the animal as if they had lost them themselves.

This resembles the conventional wisdom conversation. Which of the two individuals is the wiser? The person asking a question wanting an educational dialogue or the person that proudly initiates an argument with mischief in their countenance? The person that holds conventional wisdom as their chief stance on intellectualism might not ever learn for themselves while the person seeking, in earnest, and honest educational dialogue will learn immediately that the conversation is not worth it. They will go somewhere else and seek a credible source from notable authors, notable news, and notable secular education backed by facts. This person will have begun, if not already, to have built their intellectual base on a firm foundation, while the prior has continued to leave theirs on the sand and trepidate.

by Jamin Chavez

Thoreau, H. D., & Levin, J. (2005). Walden and, civil disobedience. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics.


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