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.