Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton Moskowitz

"You sure created a stir."
I sipped my tea, looked across the table, and waited for his reaction. But, as usual, the King of Rational Thought didn't react. He just responded calmly.
"What do you mean?"
"I wrote up the conversation we had about evolution last month, and look what happened," I said, sliding the newspaper clips over to him. "Several of my readers didn't exactly agree with you."
"Does that bother you?" he asked, picking up the clips.
"Of course it bothers me," I said, slightly exasperated as I watched him read the two letters, each of which took issue with his statements about evolution and abstract thinking. "Doesn't it bother you?"
"Not at all," he replied, without looking up. "Why should it?"
"Why? WHY??" I was practically shouting. Didn't this man ever get bothered by anything???!!!
He finished the letters and I calmed down enough to ask, "So what do you think?"
"Excellent," he said.
My temper flared again. "What do you mean, excellent?" I blared.
"These letters are excellent, " he said. "Rather than react emotionally, they have tackled the issue itself. This one letter in particular presents a very interesting approach to the question of abstract thinking and evolution. It could prove very fruitful to explore his idea and see where it leads."
I just stared.
"Look," he said, "at the risk of offending you, I sense that you see this as a competition. Them against us. Their ideas against our ideas. And I suspect you want to win. After all, it's the American way. In business, in school, almost everywhere. You want to beat them, put their ideas to the sword, and emerge victorious atop a heap of intellectual carnage. Yes?"
I glowered, but reluctantly agreed he was right.
"That's not what rational thinking is about," he said. "This isn't Wide World Of Sports. Rational thinking is about becoming involved in the world of ideas. There aren't winners and losers here. There are only winners and losers where the objective is to have winners and losers. By contrast, anyone who involves himself or herself in the world of ideas wins. They win by sharpening their minds, by learning how to question, by learning how to define a concept, and ultimately by learning how to determine correctly what is true.
He suddenly shifted gears. "You took a lot of math in college, right?" he asked.
"Uh, yeah."
"Do you remember working out complex calculus problems on a blackboard with other students?"
"Do you ever remember anyone getting into a fight about the answer? Did one student shout to another, 'no, you idiot, it's not two-x-squared, it's two-x-cubed!'?"
I laughed. "No. We were too interested in finding the correct answer. Besides, we had a well-established set of mathematical principles to follow."
"Exactly," he said. "Rational thinking is the same way. It's not about winning, but about exploring all possible aspects of a concept until the correct answer becomes obvious. Besides, just engaging our minds in the study of an idea can be very satisfying. Tell me, do you enjoy these discussions?"
"More than, say, watching a soap opera?"
I laughed again. "Double yes."
"There you are. Involvement in the world of ideas can be very enjoyable, regardless of the outcome. In this case," he said, holding up the letters, "two people have explored a difficult concept and come up with different conclusions than ours. That's great. Everyone wins. They've obviously involved themselves in the world of ideas, and they've been kind enough to share some additional ideas with us. How could I be anything but pleased?"
I both saw his point and marveled at it at the same time. I'd learned to avoid disagreement, yet he welcomed it. I saw disagreement as a threat to my credibility. He saw it as no threat at all. Maybe I needed to rethink a few things.
"Still bothered?" he asked.
"No," I said, finding myself smiling. "No, I'm not."
"That's good," he said, as the waiter brought the check. "Because I wouldn't want you to be emotionally unprepared for some challenging news."
"What's that?"
"It's your turn to buy."