Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Basis of Belief

What do you see when you look at this picture? If ten people wrote a story about it, there would be ten very different accounts.

  • A groom or horseman may focus on the horse, analyzing its health, gait and performance.
  • A sulky driver would notice the cart and harness.
  • A farmer would see the horse in a different light than a race horse owner.
  • An Old Order Mennonite would notice the distinctive hats and clothing of various sects of their faith.
  • A shopper would recognize the market setting.
  • A local resident may know the context of the picture and be familiar with the event that is in progress.

I listened to an interesting interview on the CBC Radio One show The Current. James E. Alcock discussed his book Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions Are So Compelling.

The introduction to the book states,
"This book explores the psychology of belief - how beliefs are formed, how they are influenced both by internal factors, such as perception, memory, reason, emotion, and prior beliefs, as well as external factors, such as experience, identification with a group, social pressure, and manipulation. It also reveals how vulnerable beliefs are to error, and how they can be held with great confidence even when factually false."

I shared a post last month titled Retelling a Story where I discussed how people see events in unique ways. I can be impatient with people who hold views I feel are inaccurate or untrue. I get annoyed with those who share biased or sensationalized information online. Rather than remaining perpetually upset, I went off Facebook and blocked people on email who frequently sent memes. Many of my family and acquaintances are conservative in politics and belief while I lean liberal in comparison. I disagree with many things that others hold as indisputable truth. 

This discussion on belief got me thinking that I should not be so harsh with people who see things differently than myself. I am not perfect. My perspective of life is based on six decades of living, a career that requires analytical and objective proofs, the privilege of education, travel and a stable, middle-class lifestyle in a first world country. Every person has unique life experiences and influences. Many people align with a group, giving unquestioned allegiance because belonging can be more important socially than looking for truth.

I remember when election campaigns were positive, without attack ads and smear tactics. Negative campaigning gained popularity in the last 30 to 40 years and I feel that social civility has declined, especially as we communicate with people who have a different belief systems than ourselves. The American political scene is very disturbing to me and I cannot understand why so many people stand behind a deceitful, lying leader. I read a few books this year that opened my eyes to the social history and experiences of many Trump supporters. I wouldn't recommend buying all of these books (*listed at the end of this post), but if they are available in a library they are worth reading. 

Can we accept people who have different outlooks, granting them courtesy and respect as we hear their point of view? We should be open to listening to the perspectives and opinions of others and try to understand where they are coming from. Parents need to pass essential values to their children and grandchildren as well as a sense of their family history. Parenting is an important task and our children need a good moral base. But life in the 21st century is far different from my formative years in the last half of the 20th century. I do not want my children to be personal clones but desire that they will be able to discern, be critical, ask questions, make their own mistakes, and eventually come to their own conclusions without fear of reprisal on my part.

There are people who flaunt their opinions loudly and obnoxiously without regard for anyone but themselves. We need to stand up to bullies who mistreat vulnerable people. But I believe most people can discuss different viewpoints and experiences with self control and respect, especially if we model respect in return.

The pictures in this post were taken at the September horse auction at St. Jacobs' Farmers Market in Waterloo, Ontario. I can guarantee that the memories of this event will be different for the two older men than it will be for the two young boys observing from their perch on a round bales of hay. Even in this very conservative group, experience, external factors and perceptions will continue shape the beliefs and values of upcoming generations.

  • Hillbilly Elegy -J.D. Vance
  • White Rage- Carol Anderson
  • White Trash: The 400 year untold history of class in America- Nancy Isenberg
  • The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion- Jonathan Haidt

1 comment:

  1. Discussion is possible but pretty difficult on social media.


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