Our natural tendency is to find comfort in the familiar and resist the unfamiliar, but is that really in our best interests?
I often experience mixed emotions when others refer me to books, courses and others who share my beliefs. While it’s reassuring to know that others share my beliefs, the overriding emotion I experience is disappointment. I’m not looking for affirmation, I want my thinking challenged. It’s how I learn.
Of course, I try to hide my disappointment because I know that the references were offered in kindness. The person wanted me to enjoy the comfort of affirmation.
Yet disappointment is what I feel. What I really want to hear are ideas, books, courses and the names of others who disagree with my point of view. I’m not looking for affirmation, I’m looking for ideas that will broaden my perspective and enhance my understanding. I can’t get that from those who share my beliefs. Then there’s the time element.
Which of the following scenarios is more likely to enhance your knowledge and understanding?
You spend an hour reading a book that affirms everything you believe?
You spend an hour reading something that opens the door to new ideas?
In the first scenario, your likely to come away with a warm feeling knowing that you’re not alone in your beliefs. You may even feel more confident in your beliefs. But is that confidence well founded? Or are you simply denying that others’ beliefs have merits?
The second scenario may make you uncomfortable initially because there are always merits in opposing beliefs. But as you look past that initial discomfort, you’ll discover things that will help you understand others’ beliefs and, consequently, their motives and behaviors.
You’ll gain an appreciation for other positions and, in doing so, become less judgmental and more accepting of others’ rights to their beliefs.
If you’re open-minded, which you’d have to be to explore the unfamiliar, you’ll come away with either new, better-informed beliefs or a greater understanding of why you believe what you do. Either way your confidence will be based on having challenged your own thinking rather than others’ accolades.
To me, the second scenario is a much better use of my time. I gain exponentially more from the second alternative for the same time investment. That’s why I choose not to invest my time reading or discussing ideas that merely affirm what I already know or believe.
You’re probably wondering how this applies to your daily life. Let’s take a shot at answering that.
When you dismiss the unfamiliar, when you choose to associate with only those who share your beliefs, you isolate yourself and invite divisiveness. The affirmation you get from the familiar tends to make you more rigid in your beliefs, less accepting of others’ beliefs and, consequently, more judgmental.
If you’ve ever wondered why hate groups and religious fanatics exist, this is the reason. These folks have embraced the familiar to the point of excluding any other perspective. Obviously, most of us don’t go to this extreme, but the potential exists for us to become increasingly rigid and intolerant in our thinking when we look only to the familiar.
Conversely, when you embrace the unfamiliar, when you seek it out with an open mind, you learn that there are merits to others’ beliefs. You find it easier to find common ground on which to build long-lasting, mutually-beneficial relationships that can last a lifetime.
Instead of becoming judgmental and divisive, you create community…a community that embraces and learns from differences and, more importantly, celebrates these differences.
For our kids
Interestingly, kids begin life with this innate knowledge. Toddlers don’t judge differences…for the most part they don’t even give these differences a second thought.
I’ve observed “typically-developing” kids helping kids with physical disabilities. They seem to know precisely how much help to offer. They seem to instinctively know that we all need help in some form, so to them someone with a physical disability is simply a person who periodically needs help like everyone else.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line they lose this wonderfully amazing view of life. Some of this loss is undoubtedly from observing our fears. Some may be hormonal changes that occur around puberty when we crave others’ acceptance. Whatever the reason, we lose that toddler mentality.
You can help your kids avoid this loss by challenging them to explore alternative beliefs. When they express a belief as fact, ask them to come up with competing arguments. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they learn not to be so rigid in their thinking. They also discover how interesting the world really is when you’re not locked into any particular belief system.
Finally, they’ll be more confident. That confidence will come from expanded knowledge rather than the veneer of others’ agreement.