On "Tilting at Windmills" and Firing into Foxtrots

A bit of attempted personal theological ethics, here. I have a marked propensity for arguing at the drop of a hat, if given a topic that sparks a response. I'm an INTP. That means I'm quiet and attentive by default, basically one big data-gathering system. Data goes in, patterns are intuited and judged, opinions formed and changed, ideas traced and followed out, lather-rinse-repeat with more data, and eventually there are words. So if it's a new topic to me, chances are there aren't many words to give, though I could gin some up on request. But if it's an old one, chances are there's a high-pressure reserve of arguments, just waiting to be tapped.

Time was I was impulsive enough to let that loose basically anywhere, anytime. That causes a fair bit of trouble. I've had to learn what's worth arguing about in public—people aren't, but ideas are ... and there's a touchy line in the middle where it's hard to argue about ideas because they're someone's opinions, and that gets awfully close to personal attack in feeling, if not intention. Slippery for all participants. Not good pedagogy, that. And the second thing I've had to learn is what's worth stepping into. Hence the post title.

I won't die on every hill, but I'm at least willing to run a simulation of the attack and defense options for most hills. And sometimes pop off a few rounds one side or the other. At best, this is quixotic, hence the "tilting at windmills" bit. No cause too lost to at least consider. We have everything to learn from "heretics," and very little to lose to them as long as we don't hold our orthodoxies too precious. And I'm glad to don my shaving basin and sally forth in defense of virtue—the way it appears to me, not the rest of the world—and find myself hoist into the air for my misperception. This is how we learn.

At worst, however, I find myself aimed, not at a thing, but at a battle already in progress. And the worse it is, the more inclined I am to want to say something. To think of the whole thing as a problem, and not as people, and to approach it that way. To see what is missing, at least as it appears to me, and want to jump in. Like a third set of hands at a chess match, with about as much appreciation from the players!

The thing is, I know a charlie foxtrot when I see one. A situation best described by other military acronyms containing the letter F—in radio calls, "foxtrot." Foxtrots are among the greatest of lost causes. But you think to yourself, "this could be saved ... from over here." It's awfully tempting to fire into someone else's foxtrot. But that only enhances the problem. As far as I've been able to tell, it's far better to take pictures and write about the problem somewhere else. Report the foxtrot for the benefit of others, but God love you, don't step in. Chances are you'll get return fire.

Anyways, that's all. Won't claim to always follow it, but that's the idea. Pretty much follows the slippery line between ideas and people who hold them. Don't attack people. Do test and invalidate bad ideas. And be very careful in the middle.

Comments