From the Publishers
"N" is for Nanninga
by Chris Klein
e generally don't get a lot of letters from readers
here at ET - a couple a month. Therefore, it caught us a little off guard
when we received a veritable flood this last month. All six (like I said,
we don't get a lot) addressed Robert Nanninga's articles in the August and
I guess I shouldn't be surprised. His opinion pieces
addressed death and religion - two traditionally sensitive issues - in his
typical no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners style. One of the letters was
mostly name-calling, but the other five expressed cogent positions, backed
up with logic and information (e.g., scriptural quotes and historical references).
The mixture was a pleasant surprise - I cynically would
have expected the ratio to have gone the other way. While I don't agree
with all of Bob's positions, or with those expressed in the five reasonable
letters, I do have a tremendous respect for one thing they all display:
thinking. And being exposed to real thinking makes me think.
I need to distinguish here between thinking and opinions. As humans, we
all have an opinion about just about everything. As Americans, we're proud
of the fact, and are driven to share our opinions whether or not anyone
wants to hear them. People with strongly held opinions are considered powerful
and decisive; those who see too much of both sides are labeled as indecisive
or wishy-washy. An open mind doesn't receive much praise.
Now, opinions do have some value: if you're in the street and a bus is bearing
down on you at 50 miles per hour, you better have some ready-made opinions
about the effects of high-speed machinery on the human body.
The questions is: what's behind the opinion? Ideally,
an opinion reflects a decision informed by a careful weighing of the facts
in the framework of the individual's personal system of values and ideals.
Such opinions are constantly subject to reevaluation, and may be changed
by new information or a perceived shift in circumstances or values. That
So how many of the thousands of opinions you hear each
day are backed up by real thinking, as opposed to simply opinionating (no
thinking)? My bet is, very few. It's great to be able to seem powerful and
decisive without doing all that work.
Real thinking is tough; humans aren't designed to do
it easily. In my college psych classes, I learned that we tend to remember
things we agree with - that fit our model of the world - and forget the
ones that don't agree. This isn't intentional; its just part of how the
mind works. Without some effort, all those little pieces of contradictory
evidence just slip away. You lose the basis of critical reevaluation.
The real problem with opinionating comes inflexibility:
with no real basis in fact other than ego, change isn't possible without
personal invalidation. When faced with a difference of opinion, there is
only one defense: attack the character or integrity of the other person.
As a case in point, just listen to Rush Limbaugh sometime and notice how
many of his rhetorical attacks are based on personality instead of issues
of fact or consistent personal values. Then listen or read anything by Ralph
Nader. Both have strong opinions, but only one displays much thinking.
Of course, we don't have time to look deeply into every
important issue: there's too many of them and too much detail. We have to
depend on our leaders to do the thinking for us and base our decisions on
Unfortunately, many of our committed, hard working leaders in the environmental
community seem to have lost the power of thought. Recently, a friend of
mine attended a meeting between a politician and some several of our local
environmental "leaders" (I'm not naming names.) While there were
substantive issues to be discussed, the meeting consisted mostly of personal
recriminations: who was late to the meeting, who was invited and who wasn't,
etc. The same factor seems to be at play in the dispute over the fate of
Carmel Mountain; see the article on page 4. It's even difficult to get into
a well-reasoned discussion of the paper-or-plastic issue: opinions get in
Now as never before is the time when we will be deciding
our environmental destiny. A middle ground must be reached between historically
warring factions. Real negotiating is required to reach a workable solution.
Real thinking. It's hard to see where it will come from.
In the mean time, I'll hang out with Bob Nanninga. He
walks his talk, he is passionate in his commitment to the environment and
he is constantly reviewing his opinions and values. When I talk to him,
he listens, and if I make a point he changes his opinion. He thinks. Need
proof? Check out his response to those letters in "W" is for we."
At least that's my opinion. Happy thinking.