Why are we becoming so afraid of ideas and viewpoints that are not our own? Where is our tolerance? This mentality of “let’s ridicule, abuse, dismiss, deport, punch, or even kill anyone who doesn’t see the world the same way I do” is leading our country (world) into a downward spiral of hate, intolerance, and flat out stupidity. And we need to stop it.
Reflecting on my own life, the periods where I have grown the most, both intellectually and emotionally, have been when I’ve taken opposing beliefs into consideration. I’ve become more compassionate for those around me when I’ve challenged my own belief systems. And I am proud of myself for being willing to have tough debates with people who believe differently than I do, truly taking their points of view into consideration, and being willing to change my mind when I am presented with counter-evidence that my way of thinking my not be accurate. I believe that this is what the human brain is designed to do. It’s how we increase intelligence and learn new things. We should strive for tolerance to be critical thinkers.
Over the past two decades, humans in general but particularly Americans, have flocked together in communities where most of the residents share similar skin colors, belief systems, and viewpoints (read here for more information on this). When you only surround yourself with people who share your own views and beliefs, you begin to believe more strongly that “I am right and they are wrong.” You get sucked into groupthink and stop asking yourself, “Why do I believe this? What if I am wrong? What are other viewpoints am I not considering?” You stop challenging yourself to think about your own thoughts. The next thing you know, you find yourself disliking (or hating) anyone who believes differently than you. Maybe you make fun of them, ignore them, treat them with disrespect, or even bully them. You certainly aren’t tolerant of those idiots, morons, losers, sinners, or fill in the blank here.
This type of thinking leads us to be okay with things like the University of Houston faculty senate suggesting to professors that they shouldn’t discuss controversial or sensitive topics in their classrooms now that students can carry concealed weapons on Texas college campuses. Discussing controversial topics in college is what students are supposed to do! College professors are paid to make students think critically and challenge themselves to consider multiple viewpoints. Doing this makes us smarter. But now professors can’t talk about the hard stuff because they are afraid that students will get so pissed off at each other for holding differing beliefs that they will shoot each other? Not only can’t we discuss guns in this country but now we can’t discuss anything because we fear guns. THIS IS CRAZY! How can we be alright with this?
The long-term ramifications of what we are doing to ourselves will be catastrophic. Because (in general) we allow ourselves to be polarized and tend to surround ourselves with people who think, feel, and believe the same way we do, we are losing the ability to think critically and debate ideas with candor and respect. If we continue down this path we will become a species of far less intellect and filled with a lot more judgment and hate. We are on a path to very little tolerance.
So what can you do to gain tolerance and be better at critical thinking?
Read and Explore Viewpoints that Differ From Yours
Social media fills our feeds with articles and links to information aligned with our likes and clicks, feeding our beliefs. Don’t fall for this trap. Purposefully seek out viewpoints that are different than yours and read or discuss it with an open mind and with the intent of learning. Travel more, introduce yourself to people who are different than you, have a healthy debate. Read this awesome book, “Persuadable”, by Al Pittampalli. You may find evidence to help change your mind.
Don’t Believe Everything You Think
As Friedrich Nietzsche stated, “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” While it may seem like your black or white way of looking at something feels true and right, it might not be. We have a million thoughts running through our heads and it’s easy to believe that because you had a thought, it must be true. Stop and analyze your thoughts and belief systems and be willing to consider that you might be telling yourself a fictional story. Please read my blog on not believing everything you think here.
Ask Questions…A Lot of Questions
Humans are great at assuming we know what other people think, feel, and believe and we are even better at making decisions and building belief systems based on those assumptions. This is a mistake. We don’t really know what others think, feel, and believe. We have to ask. The deeper you dig, the more you learn. For example, I was recently in the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East and I was curious as to how American politics and people were viewed by my Middle Eastern clients, both ex-pats and Muslims. I asked a million questions and my worldview was vastly expanded. I saw more clearly how the information we are fed in the U.S. is filtered and twisted. I didn’t believe or agree with everything I was told but I can accept how they view us and it certainly made me think about things differently.
Empathize with Others
Putting yourself in other people’s shoes helps you to see a different point of view. Ask yourself, “How would I feel if I were this person?” Try to imagine yourself experiencing life from that person’s perspective. Ask questions to better understand where a person might be coming from. There are plenty of opportunities to practice this right now…our political landscape could greatly benefit from us being more emphatic towards each other. Perhaps something as simple as empathy could help us move out of the gridlock we find ourselves in?
Drop the Judgement
All over the world, the vast majority of people want the same basic things: to provide for their families, to connect with people in their communities, to love and be loved, and to be free to live their lives without judgment and fear. When you take the 50,000-foot view, we really aren’t that different so why dislike each other for living different flavors of these basic desires? Stop worrying so much about what other people do, think, and believe and focus on being a kind, productive person. I suggest every time you find yourself judging someone else, say this (silently or out loud), “I am not a perfect human being either and I certainly dislike being judged for my viewpoints and imperfections. Right now, I am going to focus on doing (fill in the blank) better rather than worry about what so and so is doing.” It’s amazing how well this works…if you let it.
I believe that we are at a significant crossroads in our history. Ignorance, fear, intolerance, and segregation will not advance us as a species. We must think critically and work together to solve the massive problems that lie ahead of us…in this lifetime and for future generations. I am challenging, appealing and downright begging for all of us…no matter what you believe…to stop this insanity. It starts with each of us as individuals. If we individually commit to being more tolerant, more open to ideas, and more willing to come to the table and talk, we can profoundly affect our families, companies, communities, and on a larger scale politics. Let’s not let critical thinking become a thing of the past. Tolerance and critical thinking matter.
Thanks for reading and as always, I welcome (and enjoy) comments, likes, and shares.