A couple days ago I was on a walk with my daughters. At each street crossing I would remind Grace, the 5-year-old, to “look left-right-left to see if it’s safe.” This simple phrase “left-right-left” set me to thinking about the intersections of ideas.
When we are crossing the street we look left first to see if there is any immediate danger, we look right to see if it’s thoroughly safe all the way across, and we look left again to double check the immediate surroundings. When an idea is encountered, whether it’s an opinion or something creative or a criticism, there should be a “left-right- left” response. Except in this case the response is “out-in-out.”
“OUT” – Ideas begins outside of us we respond initially as an outsider. The process begins by examining its merit and truthfulness (it’s “safety” to carry on the analogy). We explore its creativity and whether it’s truly interesting. How does the idea seem to us from a cognitive and creative point of view? We examine it to see if it holds up and is worthy of espousal, expounding, explanation, and response.
“IN” – Once we’ve examined an idea from the outside we internalize it. We have to lay it across our experiences, our souls, our minds and see how it matches up with us. This is especially true of a criticism or opinion. Is it true of us? Do we need to make any changes in response? Do we owe a gracious response or a harsh one, an excited one or a tempered one? This internalization is what determines how we take the last step.
“OUT” – Only after taking the idea in can we put it back out in the right way. This is the calculated, double-checked, emotionally balanced, and properly self-aware response. According to our external and internal findings we respond with appropriate force, passion, humility, and accuracy.
Each of these steps is necessary for properly responding to an idea, whether it be in writing or in conversation. Ignore any of these and you run the risk of being incoherent, hypocritical, unaffirming, overly-passive, inaccurate, or disconnected. Just as we need to look both ways when coming to a street intersection, so we must look both ways when we encounter an idea. Out-in-out is how we safely, rightly manage that intersection.