Friday, July 17, 2015

Why Don't You Think Like Me?

Over at The Weekly Sift, Doug Muder posted a thoughtful and thought-provoking essay entitled "You Don't Have to Hate Anybody to be a Bigot" that I've been reading for the last week.  He begins with Ted Cruz's interview by Savannah Guthrie on The Today Show and his comment that blocking interracial marriage had no religious backing, unlike being against gay marriage.  Muder then examines the religious backing against interracial marriage and its history, ending with a definition of "bigot" and musing on how rational, reasonable people who truly mean well can be bigots and believe that's perfectly fine.

Senator Ted Cruz

These ideas banged around in the back of my mind, and finally bubbled around my fascination with perspective and points of view. That is, each individual human on this planet is separate and perceives the world and reality from a specific point of view unique to him or her influenced by background, experiences and culture.  No two people think exactly alike. They can agree or disagree. They can persuade each other. But even then, their thoughts will not be exactly the same.

So, where do human thoughts come from? Here's another mystery. Some of them occur in response to sensory stimuli from the external world. Some occur as a result of the spoken word -- words expressing ideas, thoughts, emotions, or nothing at all.  This is sound paired with thought, I think. Influences on human thought include belief systems like religion, philosophy, etc., and attitudes, e.g. how someone responds to belief systems, other people or cultures.  Attitudes tend to be an expression of beliefs, and like beliefs, they are passed on often from generation to generation.

A person's thinking can change given concrete evidence and if the person's mind is open to new ideas and possibilities.  It's also true that "people believe what they want to believe."  What I've been thinking about are the people who sincerely believe that they have open minds, i.e. they are open to new ideas, possibilities, and are willing to listen to someone else's point of view, but they are not actually. In the public sector, examples of this kind of person would be a Ted Cruz or a Donald Trump.  I find it particularly disturbing that politicians tend to be more rigid in their thinking, i.e. narrow-minded, than people in other professions.  This could be an explanation for the partisan gridlock that America has been suffering through for the last decade or so, as well as the poor governance from the legislative branch of government.

Donald Trump

Of course, the politicians, like the bigots in Doug Muder's blog post, sincerely believe that they are good people, that their points of view are the correct ones, or put another way, they are right and certainly more right than other people who disagree with them. 

I'm also reminded of the Minnesota Orchestra's labor dispute and the MOA Board of Directors' lockout of the musicians.  The Board leadership at the time, two bankers, sincerely and adamantly believed that their way of resolving the labor dispute and the organization's financial issues was not only the right way but the only way, based on their financial industry knowledge and experience (but not any nonprofit management experience and knowledge).  They believed they could save the MOA, and that they were operating with the best interests of the organization in mind.  It's actually heartbreaking.  These two people truly wanted to "save" the MOA and put it back on an even financial standing but because their thinking was so rigid -- I'm thinking here of the proverbial blinders blocking peripheral vision and making it impossible to see other possibilities -- and they believed their way of handling the situation was the only way, the labor dispute went on and on for months, ended up being terribly acrimonious, and was only resolved, ironically, by another financial issue that arose concerning Orchestra Hall.

As for me, I would like to think that I am open-minded, curious and interested in new ideas and possibilities.  But I know that my perspective has been influenced by my background, experiences and culture.  The lessons my parents taught me as I matured also influence how I relate to other people.  My parents were prejudiced against anyone who did not look like them, i.e. were not WASPs.  They tried to teach me to be the same way.  Even though intellectually I can see beyond their prejudices, I still catch myself thinking in a prejudiced way at times.  Is it possible to remove the blinders completely?  How?

Image via Implode-O-Meter
Each person on earth has his or her own set of blinders, his own point of view based on life experiences and culture.  So when Europeans and Americans come together to negotiate with Iran about Iran's nuclear capabilities, each participant brings a set of blinders to the table, as well as an agenda and goals, worthwhile goals.  One person's or group's understanding of the peaceful use of nuclear power may be different from another person's or group's.  Iran's attitudes toward nuclear power have been influenced by its experience and observations of the rest of the world and how nuclear power has been used to deter the use of nuclear weapons, to threaten other countries, to control others, etc. Each group probably had its own goal for the negotiations, also, and I wonder just how open they were with each other about those goals.

I am more often than not quite surprised when I listen to people and learn what they are thinking. It can be exciting to learn of a different perspective, a different approach to resolving a problem, or a new idea.  Learning how someone thinks reveals their character as well as their level of curiosity about people and the world, and how open-minded they are.  It can be just as shocking to listen to someone, especially if, as Doug Muder describes, she is a bigot actually and sees nothing wrong with that. Conformity of thought, or thought control, would stop human learning, growth and development in all areas of life -- we would suffer from arrested development spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally.  Interpersonal connections would end because there would be no connections to forge.  Life would be not only boring but stifling. 

So, humans need freedom of thought as well as freedom of speech, assembly, press, and religion.  We need to remove the blinders as much as we can, to encourage kids as they mature to be open to new ideas and possibilities, to be curious, interested, seeking to learn, to be creative, to imagine a positive future. And we, as individuals, need to understand our blinders and where they came from in order to get rid of them or decrease their influence on us.  Change is the only constant in the universe.

Photo courtesy Disney

No comments: