BY: T. Franklin Murphy | June 2018
Deafness to Opposing Facts
In our on-going battle to feel good, sometimes we adapt by holding to faulty beliefs. When invested in a belief, the truth hurts.
When a belief is challenged, the conflict sparks emotion. We create our life of action on beliefs of how the world rotates; we work with a concept of the compensating reward. Beliefs are paramount to our stability, giving order to our days and purpose to our sacrifices. Most beliefs don’t stand alone. Once we believe something it becomes part of our mental fabric. New information is categorized and sanitized neatly fitting into the preexisting structures of beliefs. We need the stability of an organized and predictable world; but this comes at the cost of ignorance. This is a healthy trade-off when mediated with some flexibility, understanding the propensity for errors in our beliefs. If beliefs are too strongly held, when conflicting data arises, the dissonance shakes our whole structure.
A man from Texas approached me at the airport. I’m not sure why he singled me out from the crowd, possibly seeking a philosophical debate with a liberal Californian. Forcefully, without a few inviting pleasantries, he says, “What do you think of Gun control?” Slightly taken off guard and not seeking a political debate with a stranger, I side-stepped his aggressive invitation with a non-committal, “the issue is complex with many give and takes.” My answer infuriated him. “It’s simple,” he then proceeded to list the same tired and worn arguments for ungoverned gun ownership. I commended his passion and excused myself from his unwelcomed tirade.
I’ve learned that most hotly debated topics, with wide support on each side of the isle, contain legitimate arguments for both sides. Each trade-off is weighed differently depending on the grounding ideologies of the evaluator, placing different priorities on the inherent benefits and dangers. Topics are complex—full of give and takes, benefitting in some ways while damaging in others. The arguments continue because the issue is unsolvable. Differences aren’t confined to politics, nations or religions but encountered on personal levels within more intimate settings, disrupting relationships and discouraging connections.
Our individual differences, when forced to comply with a right and wrong, strangle vision, encouraging the selfishness of a constricted view. When we believe a long-lasting topic of debate is simple, we must consider the simplicity is not the (complex) topic but the simpleness of our narrow-sighted opinion. We are blind to the draconian hold a particular belief has on our reasonableness; and the truth hurts. We fight, and fight to prove the rightness of something that is simply an opinion with a constellation of blessings and curses.
"Topics are complex—full of give and takes, benefiting in some ways while damaging in others. The arguments continue because the issue is unsolvable."
If a different opinion discomforts, sending us into a rage, because (in our mind) the issue is simple, we have lost objectivity. We have over-simplified a complex issue, ignoring important realities, and fixated on our belief. Any challenge to this well-established belief then ignites defensiveness. Exposure to complexity can be painful, shaking foundations, and acknowledging faults. The more weight we have placed on the belief, the more disrupting opposing evidence becomes. The discomfort compels us to attack the opposition rather than face vulnerability of possible an incorrect idea.
The different ideologies make for intriguing and educational debates on the national stage; but when the topics are more intimate, they lead to painful and destructive words at the kitchen table.
To flourish in the face of complexity, we must be more mindful, identifying hidden biases, uncovering the complexity, and gaining wisdom from a grander perspective. As we do so, loosening our grip on what is and what isn’t, we find differences in philosophical debates aren’t so maddening. We can open our understanding without the blinding rush of fury. We still make educated choices, supporting political candidates that support our ideals. But in humbleness, we remain open to new evidence, greater knowledge, that improves us as an individual, and us as a nation.
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