My mom always told me to wait one day before addressing something that upset me, and three days for anything that got me close to punching somebody. I almost failed her this week. But now that I’ve taken my deep breaths and my 72 hours, here is what I have to say.
Our country is divided. That much is clear. And the dividing line partitions two great passions, both attempting to convince the other how this country should proceed and the beliefs it should uphold.
But Jesus we’re aggressive about it, myself included. We have so much conviction to stand our ground and remain unwavering in the face of real and dangerous conflict. I’ve been called a hypocrite for showing intolerance of others’ opinions post-election. So I wanted to fact check myself and make sure I was conscious of what shaped the views I defend. I wanted to be able to explain that opinions, when not based on fact, should not be so viscerally preserved. They could even, dare I say it, be wrong.
So first, it is important to understand where our beliefs* come from:
It is human nature to form assumptions based on what we’ve seen, who we’ve met, and the experiences we’ve had. Beliefs are formed off of these assumptions: right vs wrong, truth vs lies, enemy vs. friend. They establish our fears too. What bad experiences taught you to be afraid of whatever it is your afraid of?
- Our sense of empathy, or lack thereof
Our ability to empathize with someone else’s viewpoint substantiates, and sometimes helpfully contradicts what we believe. It allows us to transcend the confines of our worldview, and expose ourselves to perspectives that may be unrelatable. This does not make their opinions more or less valid, but it does give you access to ideas and feelings you may not have considered. In every scenario and with every value, it is vital to do your research and gather as many points of view as possible. Several resources are available to help you strengthen your ability to empathize with others. The best place to start is trying to defend the opposing view of what you believe, it won’t be easy.
- What we have to gain/lose
This deals less with where our beliefs come from, and more about the intensity behind those beliefs. Our conviction is often fueled, or dampened, by what we get out of a situation; both factors highly influence our behavior. For example, when we want someone to like us (something to gain), we tend to downplay our opinions. Otherwise, it could mean cut ties or, at the very least, an uncomfortable conversation.
So we hold our tongue, or water down our opinion in the presence of those we don’t want to offend. However, if we’re in a setting where group think allows us to feel as though we have nothing to lose, our opinion grows more fierce with each new addition to the group.
Think about your most fiercely held beliefs. What do you get out of them? What would you lose if you were to give up those opinions? Who else might be affected by your opinions regardless of whether you have something to gain or lose? Reminding yourself that others have a stake in your opinion is part of empathizing. What you put out to the world no longer becomes just yours. It has the potential to benefit or harm others too.
Now, how do you prove that an opinion is correct, or, more correct than others? This requires everyone understanding first that opinions can be wrong.
- If an opinion is based on bad data, in can be invalidated, just as any other piece of information. Solution: Fact check. Where are you getting your beliefs from? Do you know what makes a source credible? If not, here you go.
- Opinions that can harm others either on their surface or in effect, are no longer legitimate. Even if a person is a known jerk, and you have multiple people confirming this, saying it out loud and inspiring others to take action because of it does nothing to enhance your life, but it could seriously damage someone else’s.** Similarly, when a person tells you that you’ve hurt them, you don’t get to be a jerk and decide that you didn’t. Solution: Ask yourself:
- Who might this opinion hurt if I perpetuate it? And, if I am aware this hurts others and I’m okay with that, why?
- What value do I derive from others’ hurt?
- By saying these hurtful things, I acknowledge there is something I fear; what is it?
Opinions should be malleable, evaluative, and based on thorough analysis. I suggest testing your beliefs via Bloom’s Taxonomy. How does it hold up against rigorous evaluation? Before you can prove an opinion is “more correct”, it has to be proven true in the first place.
If you take anything away from this post it is this:
- If your opinion has the potential to negatively impact another but has no effect on you- it is wrong. (Nope. Don’t wanna hear it. Wrong.) Ex: “A woman’s right to choose what to do with her body should be revoked.” (Unless you are a woman, your opinion is wrong because the impact of that opinion will not affect you).
- Analyze your every belief and write down the corresponding gain/loss. Be brutally honest with yourself. Much of your reasoning may have been subconscious this whole time.
- Critically evaluate your opinions to see if they can hold up against these tests.
Disclaimer: I am by no means the arbiter of truth. But we’re overdue for the commencement of critical thinking, and this is where it starts.