room for difference

I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I read the following passage in a book a local businessman had written and asked me to read, “Remove people from your life whose beliefs, ideas, and values aren’t aligned with yours. Make no compromises here.” Holy smokes!  What a shocking point of view. i wasn’t deteching a shred of advocacy for having an open heart or mind.

I told the business man I’d like to talk with him so I could better understand why he felt that way.

He asked me if I agreed with his position. I told him no. “Then we have nothing to discuss now or ever,” he replied. Holy smokes again.

True to his beliefs, he removed me from his life.

These days, circling the wagons to include only those people who agree with us and excluding others using a “you’re either with us or against us” mindset seem to be the new norm.

To me, these practices are 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

Sameness is both good and bad

Granted, uniformity and conformity are comforting. We know what to expect. We know where the boundaries are because we’ve defined them.

But, suppose we don’t know enough about a person or a situation (beyond what we’ve judged to be true based on our perceptions, our definition of reality, and our own way of sense-making) to be able to draw the proper boundaries? Suppose boundaries don’t need to be drawn at all?

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. It’s us versus them.

In a highly connected and interdependent world full of difference and diversity, isn’t demanding sameness unfeasible? Fuel for unnecessary discord?

4 ways beliefs can differ

Curious about the ways in which beliefs can vary, I researched how people’s views are different. I discovered four groupings of beliefs that contribute to us seeing the world differently from those around us:

  • Moral beliefs—our code of conduct for welfare and justice in how we treat one another.
  • Conventional beliefs—our expectations for appropriate behavior.
  • Psychological beliefs—our understanding of ourselves and others.
  • Metaphysical beliefs—our faith and spiritual views.

These are vast arenas that promote varying views and approaches.

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 differing thoughts, opinions, perspectives, and preferences. Our lives have been made richer by the exposure to what’s different.

In a world populated with 7.4 billion people and as many opinions, expecting sameness and alignment seems unrealistic. When faced with the smorgasbord of differences before us, I’d love to see us replace intolerance for differences with respect, acknowledgment, and inclusion.

Making such a shift in thinking requires us to have determination, resilience, and grace because what we believe to be true might not be the only truth. Two tools exist that can help us as we work to keep our minds and hearts open.

2 tools for keeping open hearts and minds

One tool is reflective thinking, a concept that was introduced in 1910 by educator John Dewey. He defined it 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 a form of critical thinking in which we think about our thinking. We evaluate our thought processes and assure that we’ve moved the unexamined to the examined. That is, we thoughtfully assess if we’ve let assumptions, pre-conceived beliefs, or stereotypes unconsciously color our decisions. Without reflective thinking, we can fancy ourselves as being tolerant yet still be prejudiced.

The other tool is building tolerance for ambiguity.

To not inadvertently fall victim to confirmation bias, we can nurture our capacity to accept deviation and uncertainty in what we define as being the truth. Building a tolerance for ambiguity means being willing to forfeit a measure of certainty and control and being skilled in both doubting and believing.

Call to action

Sadly I’ll never know what motivated that businessman/author to adopt his position and defend it so fiercely. Was it dogma? Bigotry? Fear? 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. Doing so wouldn’t mean having to accept someone’s differing viewpoint, simply acknowledging without judgment that everyone has a right to believe and think differently. No one’s right or wrong, just different.

Image credit before quote: Pixabay



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