I regularly go on about the necessity of forming your own opinions and making stands upon them. And while I’m quite certain about that, there’s another side to such things. We are complicated creatures, after all.
The more we express and defend our own opinions, the more we tend to get locked into them. And that part can be a problem, because none of us – not even the best of us – knows enough to claim that his or her opinions are beyond questioning.
No matter how sure we are about something, we need to leave an opening for better information to change our minds. Most often, we’ll need only modify a long-held opinion rather than jettison it altogether, but we have to be ready to jettison anything that doesn’t stand up against new information.
Where we hit danger is when we become set in our ways and can’t let things go. That problem tends to get worse with age, with persecution, or if we become well-known for a particular opinion. But whatever way it comes, being overly devoted is a grave problem.
The most common threat, however, is considering oneself part of a group and being so emotionally tied to the group that you lack the emotional strength to disregard it.
Ask anyone who has left a strong and clannish religious group how hard it was. They know. The people who quit such groups have to face losing all their friends at once. That takes guts, and such people deserve credit for what they did.
Political, academic, or other types of groups can become clannish and controlling in just the same ways, and exert the same pressures.
All such pressures are poisons, and protecting ourselves from them, in my opinion, is a duty we owe to ourselves, our friends, and to the truth itself.
How to Pull It Off
It’s one thing to say, “Don’t allow yourself to get clannish,” but making it a practical reality is something else.
I have three specific tools that have worked for me, and I’ll pass them along to you.
#1: Stay warm to the opposite view. Pay attention to opposing viewpoints, but not with the intent of chopping them up. Face them sympathetically. You don’t have to read every opposing viewpoint, but when you find one that seems to be clear and thoughtful, stop and check it out. More than that, try to find some good in it. Stay open and stay out of us/them imagery. What matters is the truth, not who says it.
#2: Keep friends who don’t believe the same as you. Make sure you spend quality time with people who don’t share your views. Make those people your friends… and I mean actual friends, people you come to care about. Try to find people who are competent, experienced, and different. And try to see them regularly. Two or three times per week would be ideal.
#3: Have someone to try your ideas upon. It would be ideal to have one person in your field or a near one who’s really good at what they do but who doesn’t entirely agree with you; then bounce critical ideas off this person. (Such people tend to be busy, so you should probably ask their thoughts for only the most important things.) This person can be hard to find, but if you do find one, hold on to them.
But More than All That…
Beyond all that we’ve said above, being well-rounded is vital. People who get rigid have a nagging little voice somewhere in the back of their minds, testifying that something is wrong. You don’t want to carry that with you for life.
On top of that, your family will be damaged by inflexibility of character, which is what you’ll get by holding your opinions above examination and change. Likewise, your effectiveness in cooperative ventures – everything from business to your local little league – will suffer.
We need to recognize people as they are, not how they line up with our beliefs.
So, I suggest that you start using the three tools I’ve noted above. Being a well-rounded person is dramatically to your benefit.
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