I’ve had this belief for awhile. It’s one that has been slowly transforming the way I view my behavior toward people -and I say ‘slowly’ because this idea is barely visible by the way I behave. It’s the idea that all of us are guilty of a very serious injustice against other human beings. It’s an idea that is rooted in selfishness and emotional immaturity. That injustice is that we don’t fully respect the complexity of other human beings and we don’t value their unique experience. Allow me to explain.
There are many reasons why we are the way we are. We have all experienced certain events in life that have defined our perspective of life. Sometimes, we are just born with a disposition to view the world in certain way because of way we came out when we were born. Our views and our beliefs are derived from these biological dispositions and life-changing events. We believe what we believe because we have lived life in such a way that our beliefs make sense to us and the way which we understand the world. (I hope I’m not confusing you because I’m confusing myself trying to write this.) You can argue all you want that you have your beliefs because you were critical in your search for truth and your methodology was well-structured and logical, but the fact remains that experience is one of the major contributors in the development of beliefs. Objective truth is important, and I would never devalue it, but even experience shapes your belief on what objective truth is. In my opinion, experience is the reason why geniuses in every discipline can’t agree on what it is what.
There is a problem when we forget that experience shapes a person’s beliefs and that our own unique experiences shaped the way we view things. And there is an even greater problem when we forget that other people’s experiences molded their belief system.
You see, it’s too easy to view other people as robots with no depth of character. Robots don’t have complexity, they only exist to serve a function. It gets really easy to view people as robots whose only function is to annoy and frustrate us with their stupid beliefs. It’s easy to paint people as caricatures of what we think people with their beliefs are supposed to be like without giving any thought to the depth of experience they have that has shaped what they believe.
To clarify my point -because I’m sure it needs clarification at this point -I will use a personal example:
Most people that know me know by now that my political views are moderately progressive*. I try to be objective, and because I feel that I am I also feel that my views are correct, otherwise I wouldn’t hold them. But there are a lot of people that don’t agree with me. I get easily frustrated with conservatives because I just want to realize why they are wrong and why I am right. When I let my frustrations get the best of me, I lose my own civility and I start thinking of conservatives as idiots, hillbillies, bigots, and hypocrites that hinder the progress of our society. While some of those things are true of conservatives, in the same way that some of the things that conservatives say about progressives are true, I can’t let myself invalidate the whole belief system because I don’t buy into it. Those people who challenge my progressive views do so because they have experienced a version of life that shaped their beliefs and made them conservative. I can’t invalidate those beliefs because my experience was unique and it made me think the way I do. Do I still think I am right? Absolutely. But it’s an injustice to remove the humanness of a person I don’t agree with because I don’t want to deal with the fact that their life experience challenges what I believe.
If we stop thinking of other people as robots we can make a huge difference to make our world a better place. What would diplomacy look like if diplomats remembered that foreign societies function in the way they do because their collective experience developed that system? And that intrinsically, those foreign people are just as deep, complex, beautiful, and valuable as the people they represent. We might have world peace. (I know it’s unlikely, but I like to dream).
And at the local level, what would our lives look like if we remembered that the people we gossip about, the ones that we let get under our skin, are people too. They feel the same emotions we do, and even though they have lived through different events that triggered the range of those emotions, they experienced the same emotions nonetheless. Our communities would be pretty solid, I think. We might even have a utopia within a lifetime. (I know it’s unlikely, but I like to dream.)
So now after you’ve read all of those, I would like to hope that you accept the responsibility to be a better person and start valuing other people more than you do now. We all have people we don’t get along with because they believe different things, or maybe even just because they crossed us wrong. Whatever. Just make the effort to get to know the depth of that person. Find out why they are the way they are. Find out what their life was like. Find out little details too. Find out what movies make them laugh. Find out what things make them cry. Knowing those things helps us remember that they are more than the problems we have with them.
*some might say that I am strongly progressive