My book for last month was How Minds Change by David McRaney. A good friend of mine who studies critical thinking recommended it as a good place to get started on the topic. The book added some interesting insights that I find very valuable. And though I think there were a couple sections that weren’t as clear as I would have liked, I think it’s worth your time. This week I wanted to discuss the formation of beliefs and attitudes. Next week I’ll address some ideas specifically related to changing minds.

Have you ever interacted with someone who believes something completely different than you? Is your initial reaction to criticize or complain about their beliefs? Or have you stopped to ask yourself how they came to those conclusions? Have you ever considered that they might see you as totally crazy and wonder how you possibly could have arrived at your conclusion?

Recently I met an evangelical christian from the deep south. After a short period of time it was very clear that she was passionate in her beliefs. What do you think her response was when asked what the chances were that she could have been brought up incorrectly, that the Bible wasn’t the indisputable word of God, and her beliefs were mistaken? She answered that the chance of that happening, in her mind, was zero. No chance whatsoever.

Now I don’t bring that up to challenge or question her beliefs, but to show that the context and experience of her life has caused her to have unquestioned certainty. As someone who grew up in the Mormon faith, I’ve been surrounded my whole life who feel the same way that the Latter Day Saint tradition as the only possible option for finding a way back to God. A friend of mine who currently lives in the Middle East, interacts with Hindus who are equally passionate and convinced that they have God’s preferred. Another friend of mine has no question in his mind that there absolutely, is no God. With so much certainty about conflicting ideas, how do you make sense of the world? 

How is it possible that different people could have such certain, contradicting beliefs? A person’s beliefs can only come from the experiences that they’ve have had in life to that point. Beliefs are determined by a number of factors (many of which you have no control over) – Birth place, parents and siblings, genetics, religious traditions, socioeconomic status, race, etc. Maybe it makes more sense why we all see the world so differently. 

Why is this important? Because it teaches us how to have empathy and compassion towards those who see the world differently. They don’t have to be wrong. We don’t have to be right. And we can be more accepting about what they believe. In reality, how could they see it any other way? Whether it’s religion, politics, or culture, we cannot expect someone to easily see perspectives outside of their lived experience. We rarely expect it of ourselves.

Additionally, most people don’t hold beliefs because they have evaluated the evidence and applied critical thinking in the pursuit of truth. Often belief is based on the desire to belong to a group.

The next time you come across someone who sees the world differently than you, get curious. Rather than criticize them, try to figure out how they got there. If you feel you need to try to change their belief, understanding them is the first step to creating a relationship of trust, that will set the foundation for a constructive conversation where both parties can learn from the other. It could possibly be the first step to changing your own mind.H