Pragmatic Perspective: Ambiguity and abstraction

A wise man once taught me that there are two ways a person must think in order to be considered to have a high IQ: They must be able to think ambiguously and abstractly. In essence, a person who is incapable of thinking outside of a simple-minded box full of absolutist dogma is likely lacking a high or even average IQ. Now, I certainly don’t believe that having a high IQ automatically validates someone’s opinion, but I would argue that those who have the ability to think ambiguously and abstractly have a more open-minded, pragmatic and valid worldview.

The wise man who taught me this principle is Dr. Omar Kader, a man whom I admire greatly and who has taught me many valuable principles. I had the opportunity to attend a workshop taught by Dr. Kader a few weeks ago about how we can create peace, or more specifically, how peace can be achieved both within and between nation states. The lecture was incredibly interesting, especially because of Dr. Kader’s question-based teaching style. His questions are meant to be difficult and require his students to think critically. One of Dr. Kader’s questions spurred some interesting dialogue, and some particularly spirited comments from one of our classmates that I found to be anything but ambiguous or abstract.

Dr. Kader brought up the issue of immigration in the United States, and said student had some pretty strong opinions on the matter. The student — we’ll call him Jeff — (generic, and I honestly have no recollection of his name) was outraged at the issues that accompany “illegal aliens” (a term I dislike). He was especially vocal about his traumatic experiences at Burger King and not being understood by the Latino cashier. Jeff was also quite upset that, at rallies or protests held by these breakers of the law, they had the audacity to fly Guatemalan, Mexican and Costa Rican flags during their rallies. It was inconceivable to Jeff why they would do such a stupidly un-American thing.

Here is the kicker. Later on in the discussion in a string of questions, Dr. Kader asked if anyone there owned a Confederate Flag, of Civil War fame. And guess who raised his hand. Yep, the Latin-American-flags-hater, Jeff. Dr. Kader asked Jeff if he understood what that flag represents and the injustices it stands for, and Jeff defiantly voiced the right to own that flag because it represents his “heritage.”

Of course he has a right to own that flag, and yes, he has a right to be proud of his “heritage,” whatever that may be. But not for one moment did Jeff think ambiguously or abstractly and realize that his right to own and fly a confederate flag is the same right a person has to own and fly a Guatemalan, Mexican or Costa Rican flag. Jeff, in his narrow-mindedness, couldn’t see something so blatantly hypocritical, quite simply because his mental capacity lacks the ambiguity and abstraction required to think outside of his narrow scope.

I realize that this is harsh criticism and that I too am guilty of being narrow-minded at times, but the fact of the matter is that the world could use some more ambiguity and abstraction. We need more people thinking outside of the box, or outside of their classically conditioned opinions. We need more open-mindedness and less dogma. Jeff and his, in my opinion, misguided and tunnel-vision views on immigration and immigrants are but one example.

My hope is that we, including myself, can all strive for a more open-minded worldview. And before we go preaching our potentially narrow-minded worldview to others, let us remember ambiguity and abstraction.