Posted by: CJ | July 6, 2010

Strength of Beliefs

If I spend a long enough time around a person I will usually eventually find some traits that annoy me. So it’s no surprise that I have plenty of gripes about people I know. It’s a sign that I’m not your friend if I can’t bitch about you in detail.

Even so, some traits annoy me more and others less. And one of the most annoying is the implicit belief that you don’t need to work hard to understand things from someone else’s viewpoint. It can make it almost impossible for me to converse with someone, and makes me really suspect about all the other beliefs and opinions of such a person.

This other post of mine gives an inkling of why this is so. If someone gives you advice that ignores who you are as an individual, then that’s a pretty good indicator they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Same goes if they talk about other people or situations when they clearly haven’t thought about why someone might act differently from them.

Part of the reason this is on my mind is because I’ve spent a lot of the past few years around a few of these serial empathy-offenders. Oddly enough all of them were technically adept white males raised in relatively isolated affluence. I’m not sure what to make of that. Possibly just that science grad students spend a lot of time around technically adept white males with middle-class backgrounds.

Anyways, part of the reason it annoys me most is that you simply can’t force someone to see something from another perspective. And some beliefs seem perfectly reasonable as long as you never try to understand anyone else’s perspective on them. So I’ve gotten into unending arguments, or at least very frustrating discussions, with someone who had questioned his/her own beliefs so little that it was difficult to explain alternatives.

I think what I really wish is that the strength of a person’s personal belief be related to how hard they’ve thought about the alternative possibilities and their consequences. A strong belief that’s also a clueless belief is very bad in my view, while a weak and clueless belief is not only forgivable but also inevitable.

If only we had Empathy & Thoughtfulness Police the way Big Brother had Thought Police.


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