Many issues we face in our lives fall into the realm of decision making. Controlling of passions, self-criticism, and the insistence on rational improvement (see Benjamin Franklin's virtues, the eightfold path) are not concerns for many Americans, though they should be. A short example: a friend insists that using plastic cups over non-disposable cups is acceptable because "someone's dad could work for the plastic company." Now why can't the argument be made for the other side? The thought is so simple that I think there must exist an underlying tendency to favor one belief over another just to have an opinion about something. We pick up beliefs like we pick up a book. After reading it (or not), we place it on the shelf and hardly consider it again. It is over with and settled, and nothing can change the fact that it is ours and will remain so in the same manner for many years.

A different sort of example. Montaigne created the essay to be a tool for thought. He believed that by writing things down, one can keep one's thoughts more organized in order to arrive at a better conclusion than by pondering alone. Consider the way we teach English classes in high schools. For an essay, students receive a topic, quickly make an outline or scrible some ideas down, and begin the essay with their main point, their thesis. This is completely backwards. What happened to the outline or the scribbled ideas before the "essay"? That is the essay! The English class version offers neither flexibility nor a chance to use the essay as an instrument to form a better opinion than the one the student started with. How odd would it be to turn in an essay in which, half way through, the student convinced himself that his original thesis is way off the mark, and went in a completely different direction? Very odd indeed for the English teacher, but it seems to me to be very useful for the student. I agree anything from a take-home essay and higher should be entirely different--polished and carefully considered. A 45-minute writing race to find out who has the best initial reaction and support for it influences students to think in a dangerous way. It makes us want to form opinions quickly and look for evidence later. An answer is better than an I don't know. (I got these ideas here)

In fact, I notice many Americans who form beliefs and look for evidence/use arguments to affirm them, rather than letting evidence and their reason form their beliefs. We model ourselves after the politician rather than the scientist. Many people seem to be uncomfortable with doubt or not having an opinion. That is a tendency. We don't seem to value criticism. I would like to see people who are knowledgeable about an issue, can discuss both sides, and still have no conclusive opinion. It is OK to be stuck even most of the time because, after all, we are not running for president or writing a high school English essay for most of our lives.