The writings of social scientist Bob Altemeyer about authoritarian personalities show how being intellectually timid, as well as the the influence of timid genes, can lead to becoming a reality avoiding goose stepping Republican. I’m poking fun, but the implications of his research are not fun: avoidance of dangerous situations during formative years leads to little Nazi’s, and threatens the security of us all.
This article about the neurobiology of muddled thinking mentions that people avoid reality when it is painful and intrusive; when it doesn’t support our expectations, and especially when it doesn’t support our goals. We prefer gut feelings and scramble for supporting views, and find it difficult to dispassionately include information that doesn’t fit in.
This article mentions how timidity is a biologically influenced traight that can be altered.
Many social scientists and developmental psychologists have come to the conclusion that people have developmental windows where growth occurs – outside of these windows of opportunity, people just don’t change much. And so the obvious conclusion to alter society as a whole is to focus on education for the young. It isn’t what you think that is of main importance, it is how you think.
Here are some things that the top 20 elite private boarding schools think of as prime constituents of a good education:
1. Strong competency in public speaking and writing. 2. The discipline of gracious manners, a discipline based on the understanding that civility and respect are the foundations of all productive relationships. 3. A comprehensive theory of human nature, drawn from history, philosophy, literature, theology and close observation. 4. Ease and fluency with the master creations in painting, music, sculpture, dance, design, etc. to stimulate the imagination. 5. Insight into the principal institutional forms. 6. A complete theory of access to any institution or person. 7. The ability to do battle in the marketplace of society. 8. A habit of caution in reasoning. 9. A well-tested judgment. 10. Intellectual courage, resourcefulness and self-confidence.
We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness-curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids to truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then.
Even those who argue against hypocrisy and superstition can fall prey to intellectual timidity, simply by not developing their facility for network-logic thinking that takes in the widest and most integrated view when looking at details. If we view facts only based what we already know, and aren’t in the habit of seeking out conflicts in our knowledge and creatively discovering and inventing new interpretations, we are merely rational religionists – stuck in what we know; segmented people, believing in conflicting views dependent on context, never integrating a big picture unless it suits us. Religious thinkers against religion.
The relationship between timidity and intellectual rigor is just one more example of how seeking security leads to an unfullfilling and meaningless life. How taking chances is essential to both growth and fullfilment.