Accepting Our Psychosocial Limitations? That’s Just Crazy

By Jason Menard

The band War may have asked “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” And while psychology and biology may have some answers, for our personal and societal growth, I’d rather take my inspiration from another group of musical philosophers: Paula Abdul and M.C. Skat Kat who once famously expounded all the wonderful reasons why “opposites attract.”

A pair of events this week prompted this line of thinking:

  • My friend Dan Brown, asked this of his Facebook following: “Do you have friends with whom you passionately disagree on some issues? How do you see past those disagreements?”; and

  • The fact that many of the responses to the passing of film critic Roger Ebert began statements to the effect of, “Although I [sometimes/often] disagreed with him, I always liked…”

The former engendered some interesting debate, ranging from acceptance to avoidance of people with fundamentally opposed views; the latter was more of a personal observation that we often seem surprised that we can like someone who disagrees with us.

The fact is, opposition to those opposed to us is ingrained in our very psyche. But, as humans, we have the ability to overcome our base psychological impulses and grow as a result of it.

Unfortunately in The Forest City, as in many other places, we find that it’s far more common for opposites to attack.

It is easier to associate and interact with those with whom we frequently agree. It’s confirmation bias at it’s finest. We are hardwired to resist cognitive dissonance, so we are prone to minimizing the differing opinions present in our lives not just because we disagree with them, but because they’re physically and emotionally unsettling.

And there are some schools of thought surrounding in-group favouritism (or bias, if you will), which is rooted in self-esteem. Essentially, by undermining those outside of your like-minded thinkers, you satisfy an internal need to boost your self-esteem.

While this may be psychologically satisfying, it’s also self-limiting and potentially dangerous. The in-group bias inflates the value of ideas created by the like-minded cabal, whilst undermining the potential contributions of those outside of that group. Worse, it undermines the group’s perception of the contributor and the idea for nothing more than the label that’s been assigned.

No right-thinking person would think it’s OK to undermine an idea because it came from someone of a different race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. So why is it acceptable to undermine ideas — and undervalue the people who present them — simply because they’re left-wing, right-wing, or associated with the ‘wrong’ group of people?

Why do we have to predicate liking an idea or a persona based upon his or her ability to agree with us? Ideally understanding and appreciation should be the foundation of our mutual respect.

There are people with whom I hold fundamental philosophical differences, yet I quite like them. Conversely, there are quite a few people with whom I am almost completely aligned socially or politically, yet I find them anywhere from astronomically annoying to absolutely repugnant.

The difference? Tolerance.

It’s those people who have the greatest tolerance for other people’s beliefs that I find myself most attracted to. It’s those who are willing to engage in a respectful discussion whose ideas I value the most — simply because I know they’re willing to listen and accept the challenge of making their ideas better.

I’m not perfect. It’s easy to dismiss ideas and beliefs outright. We all have limits. For example, my tolerance isn’t absolute. I couldn’t entertain a discussion with someone who believes that pedophilia is OK.

It’s easy to shake your head and dismiss certain protesters’ beliefs because they’re “fundamentalists” or “crazy.” The challenge is trying to understand why people believe what they do when it’s so diametrically opposed to my own.

What I’ve found is that by trying to understand — and actively listening — to opposing views, I’m able to appreciate the foundation of their belief. Instead of attacking — or undermining — the person, I’m able to focus on the idea.

And, as a society, that’s the only way we’ll grow. Focusing only on the people we like and only valuing that one group’s ideas and opinions stunts our growth. To me, that’s the only thing that should ever be called crazy.

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