I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I read the following core passage in a book a local businessman had written. He’d asked me to help him promote it. This is the sentence that blew me away: “Remove people from your life whose beliefs, ideas, and values aren’t aligned with yours. Make no compromises here.”
To me, that wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. I don’t always succeed, but I try to keep an open heart and mind toward those who see the world differently than I do.
I asked the writer if we could meet and talk, saying I wanted to understand why he felt that way. He agreed to meet. When I asked him to give me the backstory as to how he’d come to think that way, he said he was surprised by my question.
“You struck me as being smart,” he said. “I thought you’d understand that position. To me, that sentence says it all. No further elaboration needed. Why clutter up your life with people who are wrong? Do you agree with me or not?”
“I don’t agree.”
“Then we have nothing to discuss now. Or ever.”
True to his beliefs, he removed me from his life. Got to hand it to him—he walked his talk.
These days including only those people who agree with us and excluding others is a common practice. To my way of thinking, that’s scary, limiting, and unnecessarily hurtful.
The human capacity to injure other people is very great precisely because our capacity to imagine other people is very small. ~Elaine Scarry, Teaching for a Tolerant World
Seeing sameness as both good and bad
Uniformity and conformity are comforting. When things are same, we know what to expect, how to react. We know where the boundaries are.
The word homophily was created by sociologists in the 1950s to describe the human tendency to “love the same,” that is, our preference to seek out those who share similar characteristics and beliefs. This preference creates the unintended consequence of forming ingroups that have the “right” views and outgroups that have the “wrong” ones. The “us versus them” stuff.
From our periodic chats, the writer/businessman had deduced that I shared his view. We all make these snap judgments about people or situations based on our perceptions, definition of reality, and way of sense-making. From those data points, we draw boundaries—the who’s in, who’s out, who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s the same, who’s not stuff.
What if there’s no need for boundaries?
In a highly connected, interdependent world that’s overflowing with diversity, isn’t demanding sameness unfeasible and fuel unnecessary discord? Why can’t difference broaden our lives rather than narrow them and help us keep an open heart and mind?
4 categories of beliefs
Curious about the ways in which beliefs can vary, I did some research and discovered four groupings of beliefs that contribute to us seeing the world differently from those around us. These four groups represent vast arenas for varying views and approaches:
- Moral beliefs, which are our code of conduct for welfare and justice in how we treat one another.
- Conventional beliefs, which are our expectations for appropriate behavior.
- Psychological beliefs, which is our understanding of ourselves and others.
- Metaphysical beliefs, which is our faith and spiritual views.
In our empty nest household, hubby and I bring yin and yang to most everything we do. While there’s the occasional conflict, we’ve come to love the serendipity and growth associated with our differing thoughts, opinions, perspectives, and preferences. Our lives have been made richer by the exposure to what’s different.
In a world populated with over 7 billion people and as many opinions, expecting sameness and alignment seems unrealistic. When faced with the smorgasbord of differences, what I’d love to see happen is people replacing intolerance for differences with respect, acknowledgment, and inclusion.
Accepting that what we believe to be true might not be the only truth is a big shift in thinking. Making that mental and emotional shift to keep our minds and hearts open requires a boatload of courage, determination, resilience, and grace. Two tools can help us with that shift .
2 tools to keep an open heart and mind
One tool is reflective thinking, a concept introduced in 1910 by educator John Dewey.
Dewey defined reflective thinking as the “active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusion to which it tends.”
Reflective thinking is critical thinking in which we think about our thinking. We mindfully evaluate our thought processes to see if we’ve made the unexamined examined. That is, we thoughtfully assess whether or not assumptions, pre-conceived beliefs, or stereotypes have unconsciously colored our decisions.
Without reflective thinking, we can fancy ourselves being tolerant while still being prejudiced.
The other tool is building tolerance for ambiguity.
Confirmation bias, which is us seeing what we unconsciously choose to see and ignoring facts to the contrary, sucks us in all the time. When we do that, we inadvertently let confirmation bias negatively impact how we assess people and situations.
We escape confirmation bias by nurturing our capacity to accept deviation and uncertainty in what we define as being the truth. We let go of rigid boundaries, like the writer’s assertion to “Remove people from your life whose beliefs, ideas, and values aren’t aligned with yours.” We resolve to keep an open heart and mind.
Building a tolerance for ambiguity means forfeiting a measure of certainty, sameness, and control. Building a tolerance for ambiguity means we let go of dogma and become skilled in both doubting and believing.
Call to action
Sadly I’ll never know what motivated that businessman to adopt his position and defend it so fiercely. Was it dogma? Bigotry? Fear? Something else? His refusal to engage leaves me guessing.
If it were within my power, I’d create a golden rule about making room for everyone. I’d enable people everywhere to replace their fear of not knowing or being right with unconditional positive regard for themselves and others.
Making figurative room for everyone wouldn’t mean having to accept someone’s differing viewpoint. All it would require is simply acknowledging without judgment that everyone has a right to believe and think differently. No one’s right or wrong, just different; and that’s OK.
What do you think?
Image credit before quote added: Pixabay