Recent political events (I’ll leave you to guess which ones) have left me fascinated once again with the psychology behind why we humans make the decisions we do. While I do not plan to unveil the grand Oz of the universe pulling the strings of our minds from behind a curtain somewhere, I do wish to relate some thoughts that I hope will encourage us to take a second look at the way we form opinions and beliefs. So here goes.
Agree/disagree with the following statement: “What I believe is correct because it’s what I was taught growing up”.
Chances are, most of us would disagree. It doesn’t make us sound very independent, and it’s not very sexy.
How about this one: “What I believe is correct because my friends agree with me”.
Again, this statement wouldn’t exactly paint us as the rugged protagonist willing to risk all for the truth.
Alright, last one: “My beliefs are correct because I have objectively explored all possibilities and judiciously selected only what resonates most with my mind, body and spirit”.
OK, that one’s sort of wordy, but we’d probably take this one above the other two. I know I would.
However, let’s find out whether our beliefs actually hold up to our ideals.
Think of your favorite sports team. Did you choose them because they really are the best team in the league? Maybe they have the most energy-efficient stadium? Or perhaps because their fans are the kindest?
Likely not (Philly fans, that last one’s an enthusiastic “no”). You probably support them because you grew up near them. Or your parents supported them. Maybe you have a cousin who played for them (GO PREDATORS!). Or you discovered a random Yankees jersey in your closet one day, and figured it would save on fan gear.
Seems a bit arbitrary, doesn’t it? Well, no matter – it’s sports. But what happens when we extend this concept to other spheres?
Think about the college/school you went to. Your religion or spirituality. Who you voted for in the USA election, or would have voted for. Can you really say that you made all these choices without any outside influence?
I somehow doubt many of us are proud of our colleges because they’re really the most academically rigorous higher education institution out there. I don’t think that we were all magically born into families who just happened to share our spiritual beliefs. And I have a hunch that many of us did not make our presidential pick based on information from watching all 3 presidential debates, exploring the websites and policies of all the candidates, and reading news sources from every leaning across the spectrum.
“Well”, you say, “I don’t need to. I’m right”. That’s funny, because that’s exactly what the person across the tracks from you ALSO said.
To clarify, this is not a reprimand for having an upbringing or current circumstances. Those are rather difficult things to avoid. However, I do want to make the point that, more often than we’d like to think, we have a tendency to believe things simply because it is convenient to do so.
This is not only a problem because it’s just kinda pathetic – it actually makes us less effective as human beings, both individually and in groups. You can check out the science behind this in a Scientific American article. I had a rude awakening to this myself when I took my little Canadian Mennonite self to a huge secular college in the angriest city in the USA (that’s a fact, btw). Coming in with preconceived notions about everything from economic policy to the LGBT community to yoga, I realized (after a few years) that there is a lot that I did not know. And, in an unexpected turn of events, there still is.
I don’t have the time, and you don’t have the attention span, to give you the complete memoirs of my college experience. At least not in this article. But I would like to suggest two things that I think will help keep us more honest:
- Deliberately seek to hear from people who think differently than you. Bonus points if you don’t come in with your holster, at least initially. There’s a time for grungy facebook thread debates, but so often I’ve observed those go down a vortex of death simply because neither side has any idea where the other is actually coming from. I kinda wish that people donned inflatable sumo suits when they debated so that it would be acknowledged that we’re all human beings. So let’s put faces to our foes. Read their blogs. Get news from more than just The New York Times or FOX. In many cases I think the amount of grace we have for people is directly tied to how well we actually know them.
- Focus on facts rather than the fanfare around them. It’s amazing how many of us will agree with someone’s opinion simply because they dress well, or articulate it well, or post a funny GIF with it. In our age of infotainment, it’s almost becoming passe to go to websites like snopes.com or politifact.com to look up whether something is true or not. I have a whole separate teaching on this crucial concept which can be found here. In short, look before you “like” and BEWARE THE MEMES. I think John Adams put it best when he chose to go against popular opinion to defend the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, making the following statement during the trial: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence”.
So, let’s remember, truth is not a coward. We don’t need to be surrounded by people who agree with us all the time. To put it in pastorly terms, Bill Johnson said: “a Gospel that doesn’t work in the marketplace, doesn’t work”. And in Adele terms: “Hello from the other side”. Let’s come alongside people who admit to being on the same journey we’re all on – the journey towards truth. Because together, I think we’re gonna get there faster.