Every day on Facebook I see something that amazes me. I see
people expressing opinions with seemingly total conviction about such things as
religion, politics, gun control and so on. I can’t wrap my head around it.
These issues are complicated. There are no simple, black and white answers. The
only thing that seems clear to me is
that we cannot be absolutely sure on any of these topics.
I also know from my studies in psychology that “surety” is
based on emotion rather than intellect. Some folks will “feel” the truth in
their position and will proceed from there with total confidence in their
actions. Honestly, I have always considered such people dangerous. I have also
had to check my own responses in such cases because my immediate “feeling” is
to reject what these people say with a snort of derision at their naivety. I tell myself that I have to keep in mind that
even a broken clock is right twice a day.
I am convinced that there are certain places where we don’t
need to engage our intellect at more than a surface level. For example, I am a
fan of the New Orleans Saints. I did not evaluate my fanship rationally; I didn’t
even attempt to do so. I’m most prominently a fan because I live near
them, and if I lived in Green Bay I’d probably be a fan of the Packers. When a penalty is called on my beloved Saints,
I often scream at the refs and talk about favoritism. And I know I’m being
subjective and I don’t care. Because, in the grand scheme of things, no one should really care. Football just
isn’t that important. We can afford to be irrational about it.
But politics, religion, science, and many of the other
topics I see constantly being discussed on facebook are important. No, they are
“critical.” There needs to be less “feeling” of what is true and more “seeking”
for it. And that requires thought, not emotion. It requires the withholding of
snap judgments. It requires that we question our own beliefs and not just our
opponent’s. In fact, questioning our own beliefs is more important, because
another thing you learn from psychology is how easy it is to reject evidence
that does not already agree with your viewpoint.
I am constantly
questioning my own beliefs. I work through pro and con arguments for just about
everything in my head, or often in print. I try to sift through evidence and
examples and, usually, I arrive at a compromise position because I’ll see that
both sides of the debate have some merit worth considering. It is seldom that
the evidence supports an extreme position, although that has happened. Ultimately,
I tend to come out the other end of this process with a level of intellectual
satisfaction and a level of emotional dissatisfaction. And I think that’s a
reflection of the real complexity of the world we live in.
I’ll sum up this rant by saying two things to those who are
so “sure” of their rightness. First, if you haven’t actively investigated your
position by considering the evidence as objectively as possible, you are being intellectually
dishonest with yourself and everyone around you. Second, if you don’t have
doubts, then you’re not doing it right.