Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What do we believe?

How do we "figure out" what we believe on a given topic?

Some people have strong and immediate opinions on everything; they know instinctively what they like, don't like, believe in, or disagree with (even with new topics). Other people we know may be the opposite - they have very few strong opinions, rarely state their position, or waffle back and forth. Both can be equally frustrating, depending on the circumstance.

Most of us are somewhere in between - we have strong opinions when it comes to areas of expertise, hobbies/passions, values, etc., but may not have set beliefs in other areas.

What contributes to not having an opinion on a matter?
  • Lack of personal experience or historical knowledge in that area - e.g. certain sports, especially for some women
  • It's outside the scope of our current lives (we've never had to think about it) - e.g. parenting for bachelors, software programming languages for english majors
  • We deem it uninteresting or unworthy of our mindspace - e.g. pop culture, botany (depends on your interests)
  • The issues are incredibly complex and we don't want to base our opinion on an emotional response - e.g. certain political issues, economic theory, foreign policy
So, what if someone asks us our opinion in one of the above categories? How do we "figure out" what we believe, especially if we have no working knowledge on the subject?

When we were young, everything was foreign to us; we didn't know anything about cars, science, ethics, history, politics, religion, nutrition, computers, restaurants, etc. Our early beliefs were infused with (indoctrinated?) perspectives and patterns from various "nurture" aspects of our upbringing: societal norms, friends, parental tendencies (often times unknowingly), role models (which were often famous people), or whatever experiences imprinted themselves on our young psyche. As we got older, however, we became more analytical and selective in how we formulated our opinions.

Nowadays, to "figure out" our perspective, we know we should do our own research to find what resonates best. However, when we don't have time for rigorous investigation, we end up asking our friends, peers, family, etc. for their perspective (because they often share our world view and can offer a synopsis and a way to think about the issue).

Another shortcut is to base our opinion on the "stance" of a group we self-identify with (could be Catholic, Liberal, Conservative, Athlete, Vegetarian, Gay, etc.) because it would most likely would match our response if we were to do all the research. The obvious danger is blindly accepting these perspectives (or those of our friends and family) as the only "truth."

Research, discussion, and experience are still the best ways to formulate new opinions, and are also important in questioning our currently-held beliefs (many of which are based on our upbringing).

We all have a tendency of staying within our own thought circles - reading articles that reinforce our opinions, hanging out with people who share our perspectives, continuing the same old patterns. We need to actively challenge our thinking, have new experiences, and seek out someone who believes the opposite and listen to (not debate) their perspective.

At the end of the day, we might not change our perspective but at least we're able to see the other side and appreciate the differences.



3 comments:

Lee Knight said...

Certainly, some opinions are easy to formulate because they're based on our immediate and natural inclinations – our personal aesthetics (favorite color?), our ethics (would we steal food if we were hungry?), our spiritually-driven beliefs (faith, religion, charity, etc.), and other emotionally-charged topics (which can often include politics, social causes, and anything else that we’re passionate about).

tsentas said...

Wow Lee... Just fell upon your site today. I love what you wrote and totally agree. It's funny... we had a family crisis this week that all worked out in the end... My little granddaughter had to have a very challenging surgery.. It triggered lots of discussion among my children, myself, and my husband.

We all handled the stress fairly well, the outcome of the surgery was not the best but we were happy... Our little one will require several more surgeries to correct her problem. But in the end, we consider ourselves very fortunate.

It was funny though... this generated lots of deep thought from my family and one of my son's, who is the father of the child and a minister, with a masters in divinity specializing in urban misistry. He stated that he attributes his success to the fact that I am an overachiever.... I really never thought about that until he said it, but I guess he is right. I have always been an overachiever and it has served me and my family well.

Thanks for the great article.

tsentas said...

Wow Lee... Just fell upon your site today. I love what you wrote and totally agree. It's funny... we had a family crisis this week that all worked out in the end... My little granddaughter had to have a very challenging surgery.. It triggered lots of discussion among my children, myself, and my husband.

We all handled the stress fairly well, the outcome of the surgery was not the best but we were happy... Our little one will require several more surgeries to correct her problem. But in the end, we consider ourselves very fortunate.

It was funny though... this generated lots of deep thought from my family and one of my son's, who is the father of the child and a minister, with a masters in divinity specializing in urban misistry. He stated that he attributes his success to the fact that I am an overachiever.... I really never thought about that until he said it, but I guess he is right. I have always been an overachiever and it has served me and my family well.

Thanks for the great article.