Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

What’s Logical Anyway? On Benign Openness

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This post is inspired by several strangely intersecting events across my personal and social media and professional lives (i say social media life because it’s strangely semi-pro and semi-personal).

Been thinking about this for a while, about how contextual logic is. I know in our everyday lives, even if we know to be critical in our academic work, we tend to be illogical/irrational in some of our thoughts/ideas/actions (apologies if this statement does not apply to you!). And for the most part, I think that’s ok. Rationality and critical thinking are not necessarily the most important things in the world (a conclusion i reached after researching critical thinking for 7 years), emotion and intuition have value and are not inferior to critical thinking ; in fact there are times I would intentionally prioritize them. But it is still a good exercise to occasionally face ourselves with our logical missteps, fallacies, etc., and figure out what we’re doing wrong….

And yet…There are times when the most critical way of approaching something approaches a kind of fanatical skepticism that goes beyond logic. I am not too big on all the fallacies, but I guess it’s sometimes a slippery slope argument, I guess, to do that?

For example, you know the show called The Doctors? I reached a point where I could not watch it anymore because it was just tooooo scary to know that everything I touched was full of germs. Hello? My mouth is naturally full of germs, my stomach is naturally full of germs, our bodies are immune to a lot of germs we can inhale, ingest, or otherwise come in contact with in our everyday lives. Can someone please stop telling me that everything my child does can kill her? Of course she puts all kinds of things in her mouth. Of course occasionally someone (possibly me) can slip up and she’ll put something she shouldn’t in her mouth. Or she’ll trip and have a really bad fall. But those aren’t good enough reasons to sterilize her home environment, prevent her from leaving the house or taking risks, or reasons to keep her in my own care and within my own eyesight 24/7. That’s just crazy. Even a mom slips up. A lot. That’s actually what too much care can do. And it ain’t good for the kid. I’m not in denial. I am saying that this extreme skepticism is really unhealthy.

But there is too much skepticism, and there is also rashness. Knowing a clear risk and not taking it into account. Like giving a kid matches or knives or guns (yes, ppl have done this) to play with.

When I first started to read about critical pedagogy, I often felt that the authors of such texts were being overly critical, that they were exaggerating, overly criticizing, imposing their own frameworks. Since gender is one of the frames I personally relate to, I can see how men (and non-feminist women who adhere to patriarchy) sometimes might feel that women/feminists are imposing a gender framework to describe something or explain it, when the issue is not about gender at all. Or so they think. The logic of gender is so contextual and personal sometimes that it probably does look exaggerated from “outside” but seems to make total sense from “inside” and it’s not, I believe, something we can prove/disprove, it’s not a scientific question, but rather an interpretive one.

Our worldview is exactly that: it is our way of viewing the world, and it’s a lens we might be conscious of enough in order to note its biases/leanings, how it affects us, but it’s there. It may not be static, and some of us may have enough knowledge and empathy to try out different lenses for worldviews other than our preferred personal/natural ones, and our own worldviews may evolve to become more complex, more dynamic, even multiple and switching, incorporating diverse lenses, but they’ll always still be limited because we are not another person. We are ourselves.

So this confused post actually relates to my views about open education. I recently wrote a poem called “open and shut” and the poem expresses a lot of my thoughts and concerns about a lot of things in my life, not just open education. Even open educators like Alec Couros caution about issues like identity theft. I ask in my poem:

I trust you
Before I know you
Am I stupid?
Should I care?

Should I care
That you don’t trust me
Won’t trust me
Though you know me?

But in a private chat with a friend on facebook today (dawn this morning), I realized I am not always that open. I am prone to skepticism and it might be too much (he never intended for me to think that, it’s just a reflection on our conversation). I found myself skeptical and critical for no apparent logical reason. Just instinct? But is instinct totally irrational or does it have a hidden rationality? Kind of like a short-circuited brain activity (as in the book Blink, if I remember correctly!) Then I woke up and found more private messages from another friend, and I realized I am not the only one who was feeling uncomfortable and skeptical.

So here is my dilemma: if we have a generally open stance, does it mean we welcome anyone in, regardless of background? Does openness mean no gatekeeping at all? Does it make sense for community members to necessarily welcome new others, unhesitatingly, or do we all have a right to protect ourselves from certain outsiders coming in? Is it fair to judge an outsider we do not know but have heard about? If I personally am comfortable (or not) with something, I don’t think I can assume others are the same.

What if the presence of a new person in an open community disrupts, silences, hurts, confuses others?

I think this is a pedagogical question worth asking and discussing.

Is there only one kind of openness, or must it (for me at least) be a “benign” openness? I.e. I will let anyone in until bad intentions/behavior appear? Even then, it might be disruptive. Must a notorious person clarify their intent when joining a community? But is that unfair, judging someone by their reputation, which might be false accusations and misunderstandings?

But also: would I risk everything we have built up? To maintain a principle? Then again, is it really a risk? Am I exaggerating? Being emotional? Doesn’t it count even if it is illogical? Should we be confrontational? But isn’t that aggressive? But passivity is also not acceptable. But who has the right to act on behalf of others?

I was recently in a situation where it became clear to me that people for me, can be more important than principles.

I am still trying to decide if potential harm here is worth losing my open stance in this context.

(Looking forward to your views on this)

2 Comments

  1. Really important questions. I do think some kind of “benign openness” might be necessary, because I don’t think we should avoid all gatekeeping. Being open to others means, I think, not allowing those who would create closed boundaries between people, to do that. We don’t have to tolerate hatred and bullying. But can we refuse to let certain people into communities on the basis of their past actions or reputation? I think that may not be the ethically best choice, because people can change, and may act differently in different circumstances. Maybe it would help if we make the rules of the community clear, and let everyone know that if they violate them egregiously, they will be asked to leave? Yes, that means there could be disruptions, but I think it might be part of being open to everyone, including the person with the reputation. They may not fulfill that in this particular circumstance.

    Those are my initial thoughts…

    • Thanks Christina, I really like the angles you’ve taken here, about when it makes sense to gatekeep, and what can and cannot be tolerated, as well as ways to avoid disruption. You’re right, of course, that it is not really fair to respond to someone bases on past behavior. In the particular case I was blogging about above, it worked out alright after some public and private conversations with some of us, including doing what you suggested here: explain what the community is about and what the ‘rules’ are… Though of course any laying of rules is an exertion of power, and makes the new person feel excluded at first… But I can live with that, as long as we remain ‘open in other ways’ as you say.

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