Overcoming the Politics of Being Right

As featured in the Island Packet

I have seen a growing backlash against evidentially-based thought and reasonable belief. Many believe these two categories of thought to be mutually exclusive, but I think they are complementary. Here is why:

There are many things in the world that we can scientifically prove. This doesn’t mean there is zero room for error on a subject, but it instead indicates that the vast majority of evidence would suggest that something is a certain way. On the other hand, we humans also have belief. Belief, as I see it, is a reasonable explanation of how something is based on information available at the time — outside the current realm of scientific exploration or knowledge. And while, in numerous instances, evidentially-based thought and reasonable belief intersect, we also know there are times when presented evidence and/or belief is questioned because of the way it was derived or the rhetorical device by which it is presented.

Sometimes, though, evidentially-based thought and reasonable belief are both suspended for a third option. This is when a person contends that they are irrefutably correct on a subject. And this creates an issue — how can community occur when no discussion can be had about disagreements?

Recently, I saw someone on Facebook reply to a friend about a discussion they were having: “There is nothing that you can say on this issue that will ever change my mind!” Well, what is one to do with that kind of response? I have a seemingly unorthodox answer: Try simply listening.

Now, admittedly, social media can make a listening approach a bit more challenging. People often post status updates and tweets that certainly show no inkling of accountability behind them. As a result, from time to time, in order to listen, one might be required to ask people — who think in radically different ways from them — what they think and why.

This, of course, begs the question as to what the benefit is of engaging people with whom we radically disagree? Why would someone want to listen to someone who is on the opposite end of the spectrum on any given issue? Why would someone who is pro-choice bother to hear the position of someone who is pro-life? Why would someone who advocates a religious tradition want to hear the position of a secular humanist? Why would someone who is pro-gun want to hear the position of someone who is for increased gun control?

The reason is simple, really. When we listen to one another — especially those with whom we disagree — we learn more about each other and what motivates us as people. We learn about the context from which the individual originates and how they have arrived at certain conclusions in their lives. We empathize with them as people who, like us, are making their way through a seemingly uncertain world. And, in our listening we grow.

The fact is, you can’t force another person to listen to you. But you can show people the respect and care they need by listening to their concerns so they will feel loved. And when a person truly feels loved, they can’t help but want to reciprocate.

No person can demand love from another. We are not entitled to it. It is freely given. But when we offer it to others in grace, it is often reciprocated, and, when so done, our concerns are heard empathetically, and we flourish together as people.