Humbly I invite you to try to understand: 

  • That if you saw abortion as murder, in the way the pro-life crowd does, or in the way that you see the premeditated killing of a spouse as murder—then you too might be “intolerant” of the opposition. If you truly believed these things, you too might even see defending the lives of the unborn with force, as morally defensible. 

And

  • That if you see animals as very close to us in the evolutionary tree, and certainly not morally inferior … if you see them as sentient cousins who are conscious and equally as “sacred”—then you too might be “intolerant” of puppy mills, meat-eating humans (speciest cannibals), or those who wear mass-produced fur.

 And 

  • That if you really don’t believe in virgin births, vicarious redemption, scores of dead people walking through the city on the day Jesus was raised from the dead, or any of the thousands of mythological iterations of gods and what is required to make them happy—then you too might grow “intolerant” of being constantly reminded of how immoral and mistaken you are for rejecting the truth claims of each “true” religion.

 Or conversely, 

  • That if you truly believed a divine hand personally sent you a message—or provided people with scripture through the hand of chosen humans; and you believed that if they didn’t believe as you do your loved ones would surely suffer for all times, without end, in a shadowy underworld of torture, pain, and the most brutal punishments available—then you too might be “pushy” or aggressive in trying to influence people whom you care about.

 Or 

  • Or similarly, if you knew that great rewards awaited you for successfully sharing the “truth”, or for flying planes into a building as a martyr; and that anyone who thereby heard your truth or saw your sacrifice might reap the same reward as you—then you too might aggressively seek to share or impose that “truth”.

And 

  • That if you really believe that completely free and unregulated markets always outperform any attempt to regulate, control, or reallocate scarce resources; and you also believe that we humans have free will, and are almost totally and completely autonomous, self-determined beings that can—and should—be accountable only for our own behaviors, skills, capacities, and decisions—then you might understandably be less tolerant of those who make very bad decisions time and again, and you might vote for policies that preserve your liberties and wealth, even if to the detriment of those who make the bad decisions.

The POINT 

Humans adopt narratives to better understand things. When you better understand a person’s narratives, the beliefs that they hold dear, and the experiences that in their minds prove the truth of their beliefs, you can better understand their actions and behaviors. Better understanding motives and behaviors doesn’t condone, justify, make them truer or better, or excuse them; but I assert that it matters—because mutual understanding is a vital first step to improving human wellbeing.

WHY it Matters:

It seems to me that a mutual and more complete “understanding” of the reasoning, sociology, and psychology behind disparate narratives and worldviews is the first step in preserving peace and improving human wellbeing—based on the following logic:

     -    Understanding leads to tolerance;

     -    Tolerance allows minds to relax and be receptive to new information and views;

     -    Open minds are more capable of exchanging ideas and are less defensive when in dialogue;

     -    Through intellectually honest dialogue comes growth and learning;

     -    Through growth and learning come improved estimates of truth (how the world really works);

     -    Through truth comes improved human wellbeing.

So won’t you join me in being the change? In trying to improve your understanding of people and beliefs that are different from your own? Perhaps someday they will then join you and do the same for your beliefs? It’d be a great first step.

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(Stephen L. Gibson is the author of  A Secret of the Universe, a critically acclaimed, citation-rich novel about the intersections of science, reason, and faith. Still an emotion-driven thinker in recovery, Steve shares his journey in search of ever-elusive truth with thousands via his Truth-Driven Thinking podcast, and his Perspectives blog. © 2011, Truth-Driven Strategies LLC.)

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