We like certainty.
We like to know we’re on the right side, that the things we believe are true.
Much of our security – our identity – is found in our certainty about political views, ideas about God, or the superiority of our country.
This tribal inclination, this embracing of ‘isms’, this staunch commitment to a particular church or political party or ideology – this is common. This need to be right and sure about our affiliations and opinions – this is a normal part of being human. Certainty is a comfort food for the brain. But our certainty is often misplaced. If one thing is certain, it’s that we can’t all be right all the time about all those things we hold so dearly. And that’s a problem.
Misplaced certainty is a problem because it is those big ticket ideas – the ones we’re so sure about but so surely wrong about (at least some of them!) – that divide us. It is on issues of politics and religion and ideology that we take our sides and plant our flags and look squinty-eyed across the gulf at the ‘enemy’. Our side is sure and right, so we debate and seek superiority and power. Talk shows flourish, lobbyists prosper, politicians posture, armies mobilize, and productive dialog dries up and rolls out of sight like a tumbleweed before a steady wind.
The problem is you. And me. It’s not a ‘them’ problem. It’s an ‘us’ problem, and that’s a good thing, because it means we can do something about it.
First, we recognize that in a world full of confusing options and contrary opinions, our inclination is to dash madly to the safe and comfortable arms of conclusions. Then, we stop. We pause in the awkward expanse of uncertainty and look carefully at those options and opinions, and we realize that we don’t have to figure it out. We can slow down. We can weigh and consider. We can relax our desperate grip on the ideas that have anchored our identity and look at the people that would be our enemies and acknowledge that they are us – human beings with all of the mess and ugliness and beauty. Then we talk, and we listen.
This is hard, the talking and the listening. It’s easy to debate. It’s easy to compete for volume and hammer the talking points. It’s hard to hold our minds open to the possibility that we could have been wrong and that we have things to learn. So we talk and listen and consider. And sometimes, we’ll reach conclusions.
Maybe those conclusions will be the big final answers, or maybe they’ll be smaller markers along the way, slow and deliberate accumulations of understanding. Regardless, they will be gained through a more respectful consideration of ideas, and we’ll be more likely to see those with other conclusions – or those with no conclusions – as humans rather than enemies.
Take action: What are your certainties? How did you arrive at them? Can you articulate the opposing views – not a straw man, but the actual views? If you were wrong, how would it affect you? Who have you seen as an enemy that you could try to connect with as a human, with the goal of gaining their perspective? Where can you look back in your own life and see that your views have radically changed on some issue?
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!