On Opposition: Bertrand Russell's Fourth Commandment

Thursday, April 3, 2014 - 9:53pm
On Opposition: Bertrand Russell's Fourth Commandment

The fourth of the great British philosopher's list of rules for living and learning. This time, on overcoming opposition.

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Trent Gilliss (@TrentGilliss),  Executive Editor / Chief Content Officer for On Being
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Credit: Tom License: Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

(4) When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

~Bertrand Russell, from his "Ten Commandments" of the liberal outlook as it appears in his 1951 New York Timesop-ed, "The Best Answer to Fanaticism—Liberalism."

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Trent Gilliss is the driving editorial and creative force behind On Being. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi" and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent's reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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I disagree with this one's idea that one must argue with children instead of acting from authority. Arguments must occur with similar reverence for logic, and it has been my experience, that children often do not care about logic, only what they want. And refuse to succumb to logic, no matter how successfully employed because they don't care about what's logical--only what they want to happen.

I think the key word here is "endeavor." Facing opposition, it is important to consider one's own stance and to be able to construct the arguments in support of that position. To declare, and then to support that declaration with "because I said so," is indeed authoritarian. Presenting irrational thinkers with rational arguments may not result in victory, but it does help me to be sure I have begun to think through an issue. Relying on authority to win a battle only works until someone with greater authority imposes his/her will on me and wins that next battle; winning the war requires that the hearts and minds accept the wisdom of the argument.

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