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Reflections under Echo Bridge

Posted By Denebola On November 26, 2008 @ 7:47 pm In Features | Comments Disabled

Near my house, in the middle of a small park, one of the largest stone bridges in the country’€Echo Bridge’€spans the Charles River.

It’s one of the more noteworthy attractions in a rather unexciting town, and somewhat intriguing to the town residents because of the distinct echoes emanating from under the bridge. Most observers are slightly amused and quickly move on to explore other areas of the park.

However, I’ve spent countless hours at the base of the bridge sitting on its awkward and uncomfortable platform, listening to the echoes.  Echoes distort sound, but they also make it more varied and interesting, and in doing so enrich it.

In my town of Newton, few major controversies divide residents because the town is largely homogeneous, both ideologically and socioeconomically. The downside to this unity is that it breeds a type of isolation where it is hard to clearly see the world outside of Newton’s sheltered confines.

Years ago, when I was at summer camp, I found myself in an argument with a fellow camper who claimed that the UN should be dissolved.

To me his argument seemed ridiculous, but to my dismay, I was ignorant about that issue beyond some rote knowledge which I had always been told.

I had always accepted at face value the opinions espoused around me.

My conviction of the necessity to fully examine an issue increased with the invasion of Iraq.  Many in Newton saw this as a manipulative grab for oil, but to me it was an all-too-familiar reminder of the worrisome overconfidence that comes from a dearth of people willing to stand up in opposition, and the poor decisions made when one limits one’s sphere of ideas.

I began reading articles, blogs, books, and reports from think tanks.

While my opinions on many issues stayed the same, on issues such as free trade policy and America’s proper role in the world they changed.  And more importantly, I was far more informed and confident in my convictions.  I also became more critically analytical about what I saw and observed.  Not all data will support one’s hypotheses or assumptions, much as we may want it to.

My interest in multiple viewpoints has also affected my speech career.

My competitive event, extemporaneous speaking, requires the speaker to propose an answer to major world problems in seven minutes.

Obviously there is an element of absurdity in this, for if world problems were that easy to solve they would be solved by now.

The problem is many extempers, given the strict time constraints of the event, use their preconceived notions about a question to immediately choose an answer and then focus all of their energies on “proving that answer is correct, ignoring any evidence they find to the contrary.

While it is possible to prepare persuasive speeches using this method, I find that it leads to speeches that may not be nearly as convincing as their authors think they are.

I try to briefly look at the available evidence, and then begin forming general arguments.  Often I do not choose one distinct “answer until the end, and so my answer is a synthesis of my analysis instead of the basis for it.

Many pundits, bloggers, and reporters make the same mistake as some of those extempers.

The sources they read are so filtered and narrow that they can come to perfectly “logical conclusions that are totally disconnected from reality. Given the evidence they looked at, their ideas may make sense, but when looking at the broader picture their positions are illogical.

A recent example of this was an article in The Economist recommending that John McCain campaign on his strong “pro-business stance. While The Economist newsroom may be frustrated that the Obama campaign does not do enough to help major corporations, it is difficult to imagine the majority of independent voters sharing that sentiment.

In college, I’m looking forward to being exposed to a new group of people with differing values and ideas. Previously I may have dismissed those ideas as “wrong out of hand, but today I see differing ideas, debate, and discussion as essential vehicles in my search for understanding and solutions to common problems.

Echoes heard under a bridge are neither familiar nor pure. That is why I find them so important.

The reverberating sound reminds me that the world is not as clear as I may wish it were, and that I need to keep searching for new ideas and opinions in my personal quest for truth.

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URL to article: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2008/11/26/reflections-under-echo-bridge/

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[1] A fresh take on the yearly Powderpuff debate: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2009/11/25/a-fresh-take-on-the-yearly-powderpuff-debate/

[2] M.I.A. in action: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2007/11/21/mia-in-action/

[3] Setti Warren holds town-wide summit: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2009/12/23/setti-warren-holds-town-wide-summit/

[4] China’s censorship hindering progress: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/11/02/chinas-censorship-hindering-progress/

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