Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
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You’re right!


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There was once a very old and very wise rabbi to whom village people came with their problems.

One day, a young married couple came to him seeking help. The old rabbi told the husband to wait outside, while he counseled the wife.

The wife proceeded to list all of the things her husband said and did that upset her terribly. The rabbi listened and, after she was finished, he said. “You know something? You’re right.”

He, then, asked her to send in her husband. He, too, listed all of the things his wife did that upset him. After hearing him out, the rabbi again said, “You know you’re right.”

After the couple left, the rabbi’s wife, Esther, said, “Morris, what kind of counseling is that? You tell the wife that she is right and the husband that he is right.”

The old rabbi stared at his wife for a moment and said, “You know, Esther, you’re right.”

While being right or wrong in mathematics can be validated, it is not that easy when it comes to affairs of the heart.

In any controversy, there are usually two sides (and sometimes even more) that can be reinforced by the type of proof to which its advocates subscribe.

Before the 12th Century, it was right to believe that the Earth was flat and that it was the center of the universe. Today, that notion is wrong.

Before Louis Pasteur, the germ theory was considered wrong; today it is right. Our history books are filled with such dichotomies.

At what point can anyone, in science or philosophy, make a statement that will remain right forever?

Change is inevitable; attitudes, values, and beliefs are dynamic systems of thought.

How reliable are our senses?

Before the advent of sophisticated microscopes and telescopes, the world we knew was extremely limited. In microcosm, we have now become aware of phenomena that were previously unknown; phenomena that explain things that baffled our progenitors such as genetic markers, arthroscopy, and magnetic resonance. These space age technologies have markedly enhanced the ability to go beyond our senses.

The words right and wrong are, at best, linguistic pitfalls, symbols that have been responsible for rivers of blood to be shed throughout all of human history.

The axiom, “Actions speak louder than words” is, perhaps, a more reliable indicator of how conflicting issues should be resolved. Unfortunately, a great deal of human interaction is not objectively verifiable.

In 2005, the United States was confronted by a dilemma; i.e., the invasion of Iraq. Political scholars, military strategists, and historians were assiduously engaged in theorizing as to how to end this world-threatening situation. Each point of view, depending upon the individual’s perspective, had a certain amount of validity. Is everyone right?

Whenever this kind of situation has arisen in the past, only violence served to resolve the controversy, not dialogue. World War II would never have ended so abruptly had the United States not dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Could a dialogue between Hitler and Roosevelt settled their differences through civilized dialogue?

One wonders how many previous wars have been settled by rational discourse, rather than by acts of violence. Probably precious few.

The pen is mightier than the sword. What kind of rhetoric is capable of successfully defending such a statement?

For centuries, rational human beings have tried to resolve their differences peacefully without much success.

God has been on each side of every battle ever fought. This religious bias seems to be a moral imperative. Traditionally, God spoke to leaders on each side telling them they were right. Why? Because it says so in the Bible.

This fallacy of circular reasoning is unavoidably a classic case of Catch 22.

The words right and wrong are semantic stumbling blocks that confront practically every civilization. Ironically, meaning is in people, not words. Labeling something right or wrong is to employ an abstraction and, by so doing, contradict the first order of reality that requires validation only through objectively material means.

Because there doesn’t appear to be any such thing as a universal right or wrong, humans are destined to manifest varying degrees of faith in their biased convictions.

With polite deference to optimistic readers, the rest of us must maintain a firm grip on what we think is right and hope that the consequences that such a grip delivers makes for a better life on this tiny planet we hold so dear.

– Professor Eisenberg was born in New York City and now lives in Belleair Bluffs. He has taught at four major universities including Pace University and Manhattanville College in New York. His publications include 19 textbooks on various aspects of communication. Send comments to: aeisenberg3@tampabay.rr.com.

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