Iron sharpens iron – meeting of the minds

Iron sharpens iron – The meeting of the minds. This essay is a developmental sequel to a previous SPARK submission: “Canned or Substantive Response” – August 10, 2020. Updates are student feedback, additional supplementary material for the student, and greater in-depth intellectual interaction between  the instructor and the student. The following are my responses to a students’ submission of a three-part assignment.

Student: One key idea that interested me (and I had already discussed this with the defense mechanisms assignment) was of distractions as a defense mechanism. Everyone uses a defense mechanism in one way or the other, whether they are being accused of something or someone disagrees with their ideas. It is amazing to me that I know what a distraction was before I read this chapter. However, what I did not know it was a defense mechanism to psychological issues and a person’s personal issues going on in their life. Another key concept that really caught my attention was the levels of thinking, specifically that of experience. I had read that without experience, there could be no thinking. That specific sentence had got me thinking, because at first, I said to myself, “No way, we still think even without experiences.”. I had realized that my original statement was not true, and it really blows me away that people are so different based on their experiences.

Instructor:  Yes, I did read and reflect upon your comments on the defense mechanisms which can be used, however, if used to an extreme they can become psychologically problematic for us and distort reality and our pursuit of the truth. In addition, I appreciated your thoughts on experience and thinking; in chapter two the author explains the three levels of thinking which are our daily experiences (all knowledge “usually” comes through the 5 senses,) then we interpret the sensory input, and analyze it as to its meaning which leads to our understanding. Interestingly, experience is the only time we take the test before we get the results!

Student: After reading this chapter, I realized that I see distractions a lot more than what I used to, now interpreting them to be defense mechanisms. For example, I see that turning up the music in your car can be a distraction from your own personal thoughts, or even turning on a television to just scroll through your phone. Some people hate silence because it causes (most likely) negative thoughts to run across their mind. Breaking that silence brings them peace, even for a little bit. The experiences relate to my life because as I previously mentioned reading “without experiences, there could be no thinking”, I was surprised that it was true. Our experiences in life are the building blocks to us as human beings. Experiences shape how we communicate, how we present ourselves, our morals, everything about us (physically and mentally). I often find myself looking back on past experiences that I have had that went horribly wrong and wonder what I could have done differently to make it a more positive experience. I cannot change the past and I accept that, I just must take those experiences with me and learn from them because that is all I really can do. 

Instructor: I think I addressed in number one some of your thoughts and analyzes relative to silence, experiences, and interpretations to further our understanding of an issue, concept, or experience. Interestingly, our thoughts, ideas, and memories are stored in cells, and when we draw upon these sources as they exit the cell into which they had earlier entered, the cells are changed; thus, what you remember may not be the same as it was initially.  Is not that fascinating!

Student:  My question after reading this chapter is, if everyone has different experiences, why can’t all people try to recognize their negative defense mechanisms and turn them into positives? People carry their experiences with them for the rest of their lives, but that does not mean you have to be a negative person. 

Instructor:  This is a good question; in part, it is problematic, and why cannot we change habits of our mind more easily? This is what chapter 2 is about – our erroneous thinking, which is habitual and difficult to change, which means we must live more consciously; and 95% of the time we are living at the unconscious level as experiences wash over us unconsciously instead of consciously. In part, that is why silence is so valuable because it frees us from the millions of distractions that come our  way through experience, and override those opportunities to sit in silence to examine our thinking processes.  There is a famous quotation by Descartes, a philosopher – “Cogito ergo sum– I think, therefore, I am” and Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  These quotations address the importance of reflecting upon our thinking processes. What I just shared with you was because your assignment responses were substantive and insightful, and your examples gave evidence of the depth and breadth of the key concepts of chapter 2 on Moral Reasoning of this Ethics course. Consequently, your assignment submission was a trigger for me to dip into my brain cells and to ferret out a response to you that I normally would not have thought of. For that I am appreciative and grateful. Thank you for the time you invested in this assignment.

General CommentsRegarding chapter 2 on Moral Reasoning – further reflections on the role of reasoning in ethical decision making:

Foundations for Rational and Ethical Judgments:

1.     How can I clearly define the issue?

2.     What are the different points of view on this issue?

3.     Are the arguments sound? The reasons true? And Do the reasons support the conclusion?

4.     What are the consequences?

5.     What is the conclusion?


1. Make a special effort to analyze issues thoughtfully before reaching a conclusion. Avoid making quick decisions based on incomplete information. Instead, ask questions, think carefully, and develop well-supported conclusions. Encourage others to become more thoughtful by asking them why they think what they do and helping them to clarify their analyses.

2. Develop the habit of analyzing the key arguments in articles, information from television and internet, and conversations with others. What are the reasons? What is the conclusion? Then evaluate the soundness of the argument. Are the reasons true?  Is the reasoning valid? Is the conclusion supported by the premises? This may seem time-consuming at first, but it is an invaluable activity, and before long you will find yourself arguing in a much more accomplished fashion.

3. Make a point of applying the knowledge and skills to surveys and opinion polls that you encounter. Determine whether the sample is known, sufficient, and representative. Also evaluate whether the questions are constructed in a way that is likely to lead to intelligent results, or whether the findings are destined to be oversimplified and misleading.

4. Seek out the details of scientific studies that are reported in newspapers and magazines and critically evaluate them using the skills and knowledge you have developed. Since the results reported on television and in some newspapers are virtually useless because they are so brief, find more detailed descriptions in other resources.

Student feedback: This has been a wonderful and very informative course for me. I have learned such a grand amount of intriguing and useful information to such a point that it makes me wonder why taking an ethics course is not mandatory for all high school and/or college students. This has been a very pleasurable experience and has widened my world and self-understanding views. In addition, because of your kind and constructive grading comments on all my assignments about my writing, I have developed an interest and slight desire to someday become a member of a bioethics committee or hospital/research center ethics board. Thank you so much for being such a fantastic and knowledgeable teacher and for your feedback on my assignments and emails. I very much hope to stay in contact with you and be able to send and receive interesting articles and discussions related to the vast realm of ethics. Thank you again for this wonderful learning opportunity and experience, and I hope you have a great fall semester.

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