Buddhism beliefs

All beliefs are nuanced. Why do we act like they don’t?

Social science has shown time and time again that people’s beliefs are usually more nuanced than they appear. Supporters of a particular cause or ideology may have core values ​​in common with their group, but when given the opportunity to illustrate their personal preferences in detail, most will use a sliding scale with variations.

For most of us, knowing this is a welcome relief. People are not homogeneous; their beliefs are more varied than they appear. Go into any group and you will find slight variations on the general theme. Christianity in the United States is a prime example. There are over a thousand denominations, but everyone still calls themselves a Christian. Also, within small groups of churches, you will find differences in belief.

Unmissable from afar

Unfortunately, this reality can be easily overlooked from a distance. Across a socially created chasm, the view is often black and white, with no room for shades of gray. People see a monolith of believers and are quick to judge. Anyone who associates lightly with a specific worldview is seen as believing in the most extreme version of that ideology.

Cognitive dissonance

Such inaccurate perception creates cognitive dissonance. What is true for most of us – in essence, that our beliefs and values ​​exist in shades of gray, that we are not extremists – is NOT true for the other side, or, less is what many think.

Go on Twitter for five minutes, and you’ll see this kind of extremist labeling en masse. This allows for black and white narratives that lead to demonization, which is already tearing the social fabric apart.

people are offended

In response to the extremist labeling, you will notice that some people are offended. “Me? I’m not an extremist.

Because most people have nuanced beliefs, often that’s true. Some may express similar thoughts as extremists or question certain topics on social media or in person (although the prevalence on social media is why I wrote this article) and be unfairly judged. A thought does not represent a belief system. In most cases, the rest of people’s thinking is, you guessed it, more nuanced.

Lack of direct perception

I am not blind. Extremism is on the rise and more and more people are becoming black and white thinkers. The problem is that without direct conversationswe cannot determine whether beliefs are nuanced or whether people are as bigoted as we imagine them to be.

Three reasons to seek out Nuance

For the sake of social harmony, we must be willing to explore the possibility of finding nuance for three reasons:

  1. Nuanced beliefs are the de facto human mindset.
  2. If people are treated as extremists, they may seize the opportunity, as in, “If you’re going to call me a misogynist pig no matter what, you might as well take on that role.” More and more people use this kind of justification for their behavior.
  3. People who are not extremists may begin to see those who employ extremist labels indiscriminately as extremists themselves, leaving no room for bridge building or compromise.

This last point is probably the most important. For example, if Claire is not an extremist but is often called out despite her nuanced beliefs, she will begin to see those who use unfair labels about her as extremists themselves and will not want to engage. in any way, driving an already widening gap.

Subtle differences matter

In the dictionary shade means “a subtle difference or nuance in meaning and expression.” To look for subtleties, you have to slow down your thinking (stop instinctive reactions) and become curious. I know from experience that it usually takes time to build trust and get people to open up about their nuanced beliefs, especially if they feel attacked. They may hold to group beliefs in public but admit subtle differences in private. And those slight differences matter.

Get out of the playground mentality

“But they do,” is a line I’ve sometimes heard in my communication workshops for Charter for Compassion. Yes they are. But should you? People who want more social harmony and less conflict must be willing to give up that kind of playground mentality and fantasy to justify their bad behavior.

The bottom line is that extremism is on the rise. We can either contribute by participating in the labeling and demonization, or we can honor nuance and appeal to our common humanity.

Gudjon Bergman
Author and mindfulness teacher
Amazon Author Profile

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