People want to be told what they want to hear. In fact, people want to be told what they already believe. I know this because I do and because Jen and I lead a church community in which I constantly encounter this reality. Doesn’t it feel good when someone affirms the bias’ you already have while bolstering your ego and calling it simply “the truth”?
Technically, this is called “Confirmation Bias” which is defined as “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypothesis.”
It is excellent discernment to be able to distinguish between old information and new information. The challenge is what we do with that new information.
We can either listen and seek to understand and critically engage with new ideas or we can choose to immediately reject them based upon our already formed beliefs, upbringing, and experience before we ever give them a chance to breathe and see what impact they could have upon our lives.
The first path is difficult, but quite fruitful and requires an immense amount of courage and humility. The second path leads to division, polarization, and closed-minded tribalism endlessly engaged in self-defense, closed off to any new information.
This happens with church, God, faith, politics, etc. Author Collin Woodward argues in his book, American Nations, that the United States is actually divided between eleven rival regional cultures (not just two). There are currently forty thousand unique independent Christian movements in existence today! Humanity in general seems to be intent on defining and dividing. Politically, we even have entire media organizations dedicated to propagating information in a way as to maintain our confirmation bias divides.
The truth is that we don’t know everything.
You don’t have it all figured out right now, even if you think you do. I’m not saying there is no such thing as objective truth- I am saying you just don’t know it all yet. There is so much more to learn and know and see and there are still so many ways to grow. There is much that is true and perhaps new or even different than what you currently think that is available to you!
Think about Scripture. When I read scripture, there are always new truths and realities and information that challenge and encourage and inspire and open up my box a bit. I can read the same scripture ten times and learn ten new things that change me and how I see and how I live. This is how we grow.
The author Paul says in his letter to the 1 Corinthians that we only see in part right now. Own that. And keep looking. Keep Listening. The theologian N.T. Wright says that he tells his New Testament graduate classes at the start of each year that 80% of what he teaches them will be true and 20% will not. The only problem, he says, is that he doesn’t know which 20% it is. That is a great deal of humility for being the leading conservative Jesus scholar in the world!
Resist the desire to close off and run from new information, disruption, challenge or the ideas of those different than you.
Resist the desire to ideologically ghettoize yourself in order to define and divide.
Resist the desire to run from communities and tribes with ideas different from your own without actually critically engaging those ideas from a deep place in conversation.
Resist the false binary choices and divisions that are forced upon us.
There is always a third way, even if it doesn’t yet exist. It is just waiting for you find it or create it or lead the way. Don’t settle for false choices and bankrupt binaries.
What if instead we learned to open ourselves to listening and engaging and perhaps even allowing new, possibly disrupting, information to seep in and change us a bit? This doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything, it means you are listening and trying to understand. And who knows, you may learn a thing or two.
Diversity is critical. We desperately need people and communities willing to engage in this way of life. We need a new way forward beyond the warring tribalism and divisions of our day.
Obviously, there are times when you realize that some people, communities, or tribes are just not healthy for you to be part of based upon a myriad of reasons. That’s okay. You can leave healthy distance without attacking, insulting, detaching and polarizing. You can find some common ground of humanity. You can still learn from them and even alongside them. You can be in some form of relationship. You can listen. You can have a process of healthy self-critique so that we can all continuing growing.
We need to hear what we don’t want to hear, even what we don’t believe, so that we can constructively and critically engage with people and ideas with mutual respect and love that will allow us to connect to each other and move forward together- even if we don’t agree on everything.