June 1. How empty is my boxcar?

“Narrow-minded people are similar to narrow-necked bottles. The less they have in them the more noise they make pouring it out.” (Alexander Pope)

“The empty boxcar makes the most noise.”

“A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing”

It seems to me that these should be companion               quotes to the one from Alexander Pope today. The notion that people who don’t have a lot to say are sometimes the most vocal is a theme that’s been around in writing for a long time.

Every generation has its own definition for narrow-mindedness. And that definition can prove most tricky. What one group sees as narrow-mindedness from another can also just be strong convictions on that other group’s part. The surest and fastest way to cast public doubt on a group’s argument is to accuse them of being closed, or narrow-minded. If that accusation generates enough traction, it can leave the accused group laid low. Generally speaking, I try to steer clear of referring to a group’s beliefs as being narrow-minded, lest mine fall into those crosshairs.

I do think there is something to be said for having sufficient facts to back up an opinion. People, me included, are free to have whatever opinion about a situation, event, policy or person that they like. If I want my opinion to have any credence, and for it to be thought of as something other than the clatter of an empty boxcar, I need to make sure that I have my facts straight. In fact, if I want it to be meaningful within even MY OWN life, I should back it up with some knowledge.

I will be among the first to admit that I am as guilty of snap judgments, and ill-conceived opinions as anyone. I have people in my life (some call them spouse and children), who regularly hold the mirror up to me and make me accountable for at least backing up my opinions with some facts. When I cannot, I am embarrassed and usually try to retreat. On my worst days, I dig the hole a little deeper (this despite my frequent advice to others that “when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.).

No one wants to be thought of as narrow-minded. We all strive to be thinking people who consider multiple sides to a discussion before forming an opinion. This Socratic ideal has been taught to us by our parents and teachers along the way. There are adages like “seek first to understand”, to help us remember that we should not judge or have an opinion on things we do not understand. But, how many of us routinely step all over that notion and snap to judge? Worse, how many of us will then espouse on that ill-conceived judgment with the force of fact?

As you may be able to tell, this quote today really has me thinking about myself and how I approach things. I worry that too often I am the person seen as “narrow-minded”, or even the “empty boxcar”. I want to believe that I am a person who gives careful consideration to things, but I know that is more my idealized, rose-colored-glasses version of myself than is justified in evidence.

Clearly I need to do some work on myself in this area. Recently I have written about my tendency to criticize, condemn and complain, and now I am admitting to succumbing to that activity’s ugly twin. Where did I put that 3C card I wrote about the other day? Hmmmm

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