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Making Judgments that Shine

Welcome back to From Insults to Respect. For those of us who seek to be respected members of our community, when we declare our judgments on the different issues of the day, we have a great opportunity to shine. Today, I want to present a model that just might help you to explain why you have reached your opinion in a manner that could help you to enhance your reputation. This post will be, for most, a bit more challenging to get through than most of my posts, but it will be well worth it in the end.

William Perry’s Approach to Decision Making

Judgment: the capacity to assess situations or circumstances shrewdly and to draw sound conclusions

William Perry, a Harvard professor, has described an outline of four stages of reflective decision making.  sun after the rainI believe that if more of us were presented with this outline, and then discussed why many people feel that people who reason at the lower levels are more immature, and, at the higher levels, more mature, this would begin to challenge us to learn how to make our judgments stand out like the sun after a long bout of rainy skies.  If we then practiced writing assignments in which we had to defend a position, while utilizing the model of the highest level of reasoning, this would further challenge us to make some improvements in making sound judgments.

Perry’s Four Stages

Perry’s four stages of reflective decision making are written for college professors so that they can better understand the reasoning of their college students. His descriptions, therefore, are liberally sprinkled with such terms as egocentric, basic dualism, and multiplicity.  Judgment 2Moreover, each stage is discussed in such a way that the reader gets an idea of not only what the position looks like when it is firmly established, but also what it looks like as a person begins to emerge from a lower stage to a higher stage of reasoning.  But, as written by Perry, each stage is way too complicated to be readily understood by most of us.  I have, therefore, taken the liberty of simplifying Perry’s terminology and transforming his four stages into seven, so that each level can be described in a relatively concise, easy to understand manner. Unfortunately, some of the subtleties of Perry’s higher level discourse are lost in my translation.  The reader interested in a full description of his model is referred to Perry, 1970.

Stage 1:  People at this level, when asked to provide their opinion on a topic and to defend it, will simply state that they don’t know, or they will adopt an opinion but will be unable to provide any reasonable argument in its defense.

2+2Examples:  Mary asks Pete, Sally, and John, “Please tell me how much two plus two equals, and then defend your answer?” Pete answers that he doesn’t know the answer. Sally answers, “The answer is four but I don’t know why.” and John answers, “The answer is four because it just does.”  Pete, Sally, and John are all at Stage 1.

Stage 2:  Students at this level, when asked to provide their opinion on a topic and to defend it will adopt an opinion of someone in authority, like a parent, teacher, or scientist.  When asked for reasons for their opinion, it becomes clear that they depend on some authority to decide for them what is right or wrong, or true or false.

Examples:  Mary asks Pete and Sally, “Please tell me how much two plus two equals, and then defend your answer.” Pete answers, “The answer is four, and I know it’s right because my teacher says so.”  Sally answers, “The answer is four.  My mom and dad both say it’s four, so I know it’s got to be right.” Sally and Pete are both at Stage 2.

Stage 3:  Students at this level, when asked to provide their opinion on a topic and to defend it demonstrate they are just beginning to realize that sometimes different authorities may hold different positions on a topic.  MomFor issues that seem straight forward to a student like simple math problems, (How much does two plus two equal?) or relatively clear cut moral issues (Is lying wrong?) Stage 3 students might have just heard one position taken on the subject and are therefore likely to answer just like Stage 2 students, mentioning only one authority.  We can only tell that a student has moved from level two to level three when they are asked to defend a position on which they have heard differences of opinion.  Then two or more authorities are oftentimes mentioned.

Examples:  Nancy asks Jill and Bob, “Please tell me who you think was the greatest baseball player that ever lived, and defend your answer.”  Jill answers, “It’s got to be the Babe.”  Nancy asks Jill, “Can you defend your answer?”  Jill answers, “My dad says so.” Bob answers, “Well, my dad thinks Mickey Mantle was the greatest ball player, but my uncle says it’s Willie Mays.”  In these examples it is possible both Jill and Bob have the skills to think at a Stage 3, but only Bob mentions two authorities because he has heard that there was a difference of opinion on this topic, whereas Jill might have only heard the one opinion.

Judgment 3Stage 4:  Like those at Stage 3, students at Stage 4, when asked to defend their position on a topic, will demonstrate that they are aware that sometimes different authorities may have different opinions on a topic. What makes students at Stage 4 different than students at Stage 3 is that they can summarize some of the reasons authorities provide when defending their positions.  Although students at Stage 4 are beginning to be able to describe different points of view, they oftentimes have a hard time deciding what is true from their own perspective.  This is less likely to occur with simple math answers, or relatively clear cut moral issues such as, is lying wrong?  For more difficult issues, when challenged to choose between two positions the one that seems more right, they may indicate that they don’t know, or that both are right, or they will pick a position, without any conviction, just to please the questioner.

4 sticksExamples:  1. Mary asks Sally, “Please tell me how much two plus two equals, and then, defend your answer.”  Sally answers, “The answer is four.  I know it’s four because my teacher showed us that if you take two sticks and you put them side by side, and then you take two more sticks, and put them beside the other two sticks, and then if you counted all the sticks that were there you’d get four.  If you did the same thing for pennies or bricks, or anything, you’d also get four.”  mantle_mays2. Nancy asks Bob, “Please tell me who you think was the greatest baseball player that ever lived and defend your answer.”  Bob answers, “My dad says he thinks Mickey Mantle was the greatest ball player because he was so fast, and when he hit a home run it’d go a mile.  My uncle thinks Willie Mays was better because he was great for a lot more years than Mantle.”  Nancy then says to Bob, “You told me what your dad and your uncle think.  Now tell me who you think was the best and defend your answer.”  Bob answers, “I really don’t know.”

judgment 4Stage 5:  Students at this level, when asked their position on a topic, will answer a lot like Stage 4 students.  What makes students at Stage 5 different than Stage 4 students is that if they are not familiar with two or more positions on the topic of interest they do research, deliberately seeking out authorities with different opinions in an effort to challenge themselves and their audience to think more deeply about the issue.

Example:  Nancy asks Bob, “Please tell me who you think was the greatest baseball player that ever lived and defend your answer.” Bob answers, “Well, let me talk to a few people I know about this, my father and uncle.  They’re real students of the game, and I’ve come to respect their opinions.”  The next day, Bob goes over to Nancy and says, “Last night I spoke with my dad and uncle about your question. My dad said he thinks Mickey Mantle was the greatest ballplayer because he was so fast, and when he hit a home run it’d go a mile.  My uncle thinks Willie Mays was better because he was great for a lot more years than Mantle.”  Nancy then says to Bob, “You told me what your dad and your uncle think.  Now tell me who you think was the best, and defend your answer.”  Bob answers, “I really don’t know.”

Stage 6:  Students at this level, when asked their position on a topic, will answer a lot like Stage 5 students, but Stage 6 students have begun to realize answers oftentimes depend on different situations.

Example:  Mary asks Pete, “Please tell me how much two plus two equals, and then defend your answer.”  Pete answers, “My teacher explained to me that the answer is four. She showed us that if you take two sticks and you put them side by side, and then you take two more sticks, and put them beside the other sticks, and then if you counted all the sticks that were there you’d get four.  If you did the same thing for pennies or bricks, or anything, you’d also get four. The thing is, my dad showed me that the answer to how much two plus two equals depends on the situation. Let’s say you have two family members, a husband and a wife. And then, let’s say you have two more family members, also a husband and a wife.  In this kind of situation, a husband and a wife can start to have children, and in time, two family members plus two family members can end up equaling five, or six, or even more family members.  Also, let’s say you have two pieces of glass, and you add two more pieces of glass, and then, in this special situation, one of the pieces of glass breaks. All of a sudden, two pieces of glass plus two pieces of glass ends up equaling more than four.  So it depends on the situation.” Mary then says to Pete, “You told me what your teacher and dad think about this.  What answer do you think is the best answer?  Pete answers, “Both answers are just as good.”

Stage 7:  Students at this level have begun to understand that authorities may not have the right answers, at least in some areas, such as tastes in foods, drinks, and art.  Moving from being completely dependent for answers from authorities, Stage 7 students carve out their own territory of personal freedom:  judgment 5“Everyone has a right to her own opinion and mine is as good as any.” As students’ personal opinions are challenged by their teachers’ insistence on evidence and support for opinions, Stage 7 students become better at stating the reasons authorities give for their opinions, doing research that identifies different points of view, listing the pros and cons of each position, and recognizing that the meaning of an event depends on the context in which the event occurs. These skills occur at Stage 6 as well as Stage 7, but become stronger and more elaborated for students at Stage 7.  Finally, Stage 7 students can do one thing that Stage 6 students are unable to do.  After Stage 7 students review the different positions of authorities, and point out that answers depend on certain situations, they can then take a tentative stand as to what answer is right from their own point of view.  Notice in the example below that much of the answer is very similar to one that would be given by a person at Stage 6.

Example:  Mary asks Pete, “Please tell me how much two plus two equals, and then defend your answer.”  Pete answers, “My teacher explained to me that the answer is four. She showed us that if you take two sticks and you put them side by side, and then you take two more sticks, and put them beside the other sticks, and then if you counted all the sticks that were there you’d get four. 2+ 4 fingersIf you did the same thing for pennies or bricks, or pretty much anything else you’d also get four. The thing is, my dad showed me that the answer to how much two plus two equals depends on the situation. Let’s say you have two family members, a husband and a wife. And then, let’s say you have two more family members, also a husband and a wife. In this kind of situation, a husband and a wife can start to have children, and in time, two family members plus two family members can end up equaling five, or six, or even more family members. Also, let’s say you have two pieces of glass, and you add two more pieces of glass, and then, in this special situation, one of the pieces of glass breaks. All of a sudden, two pieces of glass plus two pieces of glass ends up equaling more than four.  So it depends on the situation. For me, I think that most of the time the best answer for the question, what does two plus two equal, should be four. That’s the answer that works most of the time.  Still, it’s important to be aware that in certain unique situations, a different answer might be better. 

Conclusion             

All right, those are some thoughts about making your judgments shine. There are, of course some other important ideas to consider. For example, if you can include a metaphor in defending your judgment, it would be sunlight glistening off the morning dew. And if you could avoid using mean hearted insults against people who hold a different point of view, you will come off, for most people, as ever more wise. And, also, keep in mind that when reporting on your judgments about simple taste, there is no need to go into a long winded high level defense of your opinion. If you don’t like spinach, you’re entitled to that judgment without a sophisticated argument.

So, with all of that said, for now, I’m just advocating that you give some thought to the Perry approach over the next few days. And please join us again real soon right here at From Insults To Respect. Have a great week.

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Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

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