‘If we hold our beliefs so passionately, with such certainty that we are right and with such absence of “doubt”, how can we ever hope to enlighten and change the minds of those with opposing views?’
Not long ago on the weekly conference call moderated by the publisher of The Good Men’s Project, participants engaged in a conversation about how to discuss passionately held beliefs with people who hold conflicting beliefs with equal passion. Perhaps that complex sentence calls for examples to crystallize the issue.
- How should someone who believes that abortion is a woman’s right to control her body discuss the issue with someone who believes abortion is the murder of an innocent child?
- How should someone who believes that Israel is unnecessarily oppressing the Palestinians discuss the occupation (even that word is disputed) with someone who believes that Israel is protecting its very existence against terrorists who would use a Palestinian State to attack or to terrorize Israelis?
- How should someone who believes that police brutalize and kill blacks with guns and choke holds because police believe that blacks are generally thugs, discuss the question with someone who believes that police act reasonably to protect themselves in situations fraught with danger that require split-second decisions which can’t be second guessed?
- How should someone who believes that humans are causing climate change that endangers the planet discuss the issue with someone who believes that there is no evidence to support that claim and that climate change is the inevitable result of natural causes?
- How can we discuss evolution with someone who believes in revelation?
These are a few of many issues that create so much heat in the minds of believers that light from opposing views rarely enters our minds to allow rational analysis. On the conference call referred to above, some participants readily admitted that they could not discuss one or more of these issues with opposing believers because they felt there was no rational support for opposing beliefs.
However, one participant pointed out something that should have been obvious, but which I found enlightening. If we hold our beliefs so passionately, with such certainty that we are right and (the opposite side of the coin) with such absence of “doubt”, how can we ever hope to enlighten and change the minds of those with opposing views? Isn’t the essence of debate the hope of changing the mind of someone we believe is wrong?
Perhaps equally compelling; if, as many liberal minded people believe, “doubt frees the mind, faith chains it to unprovable belief,” how can we justify our own absence of doubt?
The answer proposed by the enlightened participant was that we should practice putting ourselves in the minds of the “others” — try to silently adopt their point of view without preconceiving it as wrong, and then find non-judgmental, non-threatening ways to discuss the beliefs.
Perhaps I am mis-paraphrasing the participant. I hope he comments below and continues to enlighten us.
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