You see someone post something against your political views. You’re calm enough to recognize that it’s ok for there to be a difference in viewpoint, but you notice they are also really digging in. They say without saying that you’re ignorant, that you and everyone else who believe like you do will be the downfall of the country. You feel the tendency to start to get defensive, you start to feel anger because you believe they just aren’t right, that in fact it’s their way of thinking that’s the problem. The negative feelings start to boil over for both of you and as a result you all unfriend each other and that’s that. We all know that everyone is entitled to their own belief but at what point is a belief or way of thinking purely destructive and needs to be shutdown and condemned?
Thinking Wrong Equals Death
When we were cave women and men, there were a lot more large wild animals like Dire Wolves (which apparently were a real species?!). If we were wrong about a prediction back then, that would mean we would get eaten. Throughout our history, we’ve learned to make tools and traps, to avoid being eaten. Everything regarding our senses and our decisions have been optimized to ensure survival.
Imagine we’re walking home after hunting and foraging all day, our cave is still a half a mile away. It’s dark out now and you hear a slight growl and rustling in the trees not more than 40 yards away. Should you assume that it’s something that is going to try and eat you? Or should you assume that it’s not a threat and ignore it?
By assuming the worst, you prepared and survived. If you assumed everything would be fine and didn’t prepare, you would have been a night time snack for the dire wolf. While we still have those instincts deep inside of us, we now operate in a world where not everything is actually trying to kill us despite our better judgement. That means we have to find a balance and make choices knowing when to sound the alarm and when to let things go.
With deep seated beliefs that decide our fate like politics and religion, it’s easy to see why opposing views are looked at with heightened emotions and disdain, these beliefs are instinctively a matter of life and death.
Before we tackle beliefs in general, let’s talk religious ones more specifically. We know there are a large number of religions in the world and a number of these religions require some form of allegiance and belief system. Sometimes these beliefs are supposed to help us be saved from death, other times to be saved from evil or other negative events.
The opposite of our beliefs become everything else that results in bad things, evil and death. If we believe in God, then we will go to heaven. If we do not, then we will go to hell. If we adhere strongly to those beliefs, then without any other input or factors, anyone who does’t agree with our beliefs are going to jeopardize us. Why would we want those type of people in our life? We’d have an inclination to do everything in our power to get away from those people, we’d treat them as if they would be the reason we’re going to hell.
For some of the more forgiving religions however, they don’t take such extreme stances. To them, conflicting beliefs are more natural and subject to interpretation. Belief in “God” for example would be the equivalent of believing in any higher power, to some the “Universe” could be considered that higher power, to others the “Earth” itself and for others quantum interactions or whatever sparked our consciousness.
The point is that when it comes to beliefs, there are usually many different representations that can alter how situations play out. If we think back to our night time cave walking, the differing representations isn’t deliberating whether there is a dire wolf or not; we are deliberating whether it is an extra fast and smart wolf, is it alone or in a pack, or is it an enemy group making sounds to trick us?
Dresses and Reality
No matter what scenario we look at there is always going to be reality and there is going to be our representations of reality. If it’s a physical object, we’re lucky because we can at least test out our representations more directly. The dress that broke the internet was a phenomenon where people legitimately saw the dress as a different color than it actually was. While the majority of people saw it “correctly”, over 30% of people saw it “incorrectly”. For the majority of us, it’s extremely difficult to understand how anyone could even see it differently.
As we saw with the lurking dire wolf, it would be more reasonable to predict a cautious reality just in case we’re wrong. If the dress were the equivalent of black and blue fox or white and gold dire wolf, even if we were pretty sure it was just a fox, it would pay to be cautious relative to our surroundings. How would we even begin to argue with someone who really think’s there’s a dire wolf? For something that is truly life and death, wouldn’t we follow suit until we’re safe and in the clear? The only time we would need to stop and debate is if there were other life and death issues in play and the ultimate decisions will affect us collectively, meaning we would have to come to a consensus.
Destructive and Political Beliefs
In most scenarios we can let those who believe differently do what they want. The problem is when we believe their actions will negatively affect us. It’s one thing to think there’s a threat in the forest that we have to be wary of, it’s another to require that we leave the town to hunt the threat until it’s resolved. What if there are other threats that aren’t being accounted for leaving the village open to attack? Now we have a “political” situation, a form of making a decision as a group which affect individuals within the group.
The problem with political beliefs is that all of them deal with our betterment individually and as a group, or our detriment. In other words, everything is either better for society or worse for society. Our own beliefs are naturally what we think is “better” and everyone else’s is naturally what we think is “worse”. Similar to religion, everything and everyone that is in opposition represents what is “negative”, “bad” and sometimes considered “evil”.
When we have a dichotomy where there is emotional emphasis on the disagreement they can become destructive beliefs that are ultimately the responsibility of all sides involved. For example, if we believe that someone’s political view will cause the downfall of society, that’s not a destructive belief by itself. It’s what we believe as it relates to what actions we take. If we treat the people we disagree with disdainfully or with animosity, then we are perpetuating destructive beliefs. Is there a time and a place for them? Maybe, but until we are dealing with direct threats of violence, chances are we aren’t there yet.
Breaking the Cycle
How do we proceed when there are political views we don’t agree with? That we think will cause the downfall of society? What do we do when there are destructive beliefs that large groups of people seem to be perpetuating?
- Destructive beliefs and negative rhetoric can easily cause us to retaliate (hate begets hate). Take a breath and bow out of the conversation if necessary. But it’s not about winning or losing, because when it comes to destructive beliefs no one wins. Unless we’re dealing with threats of violence just be respectful and walk away.
- We have to assume that all sides have facts within their perspective. Only assuming there is no dire wolf is just as bad as only assuming there is. We should approach problems with a rounded perspective with a skeptical but always solution oriented outlook.
- When we are debating problems, we must focus on proving ourselves wrong, not proving the other side wrong. We already “know” the other side is wrong, what we don’t know is whether we are or not.
The next time you encounter someone politically bashing your position or beliefs, take it in stride, look for the truths in what they are telling you. Try to poke holes in your own thoughts and theories instead of theirs. If you’re still right, you likely increased your ability to understand their perspective and if you’re wrong you learned something new.