This thought is a tough one to transfer from mind to paper (articulating myself coherently has never been a strength of mine but this time it will be especially difficult), so bear with me.
I was walking around the grocery store having a deep conversation (shocking, I know) with a close friend of mine – one that was basically boiling down to how we view the world. While we see the world very differently, the one thing we could agree on was that neither of us have all of the answers. However, we also acknowledged that this doesn’t stop us from convincing ourselves that we do have all the answers. Then, looking around, seeing this well-functioning society of peaceful people walking around minding their own business, I couldn’t help but be amazed that this conclusion was applicable to everyone around us.
We all try to make sense of the world in ways that are as simple as possible. For example, we can’t accept that there is no meaning in life, so we come up with an answer that’s typically no longer than a sentence. Perhaps the meaning of life is to be happy, perhaps it’s to grow, perhaps it’s to follow God’s plan – nobody knows the answer but that doesn’t stop us from creating one and believing it wholeheartedly. We can’t accept that we that there is no explanation for how we (humans/life) came about, so we create religions that explain it or look to the theory of evolution. Ever noticed how people are on one side or the other, rarely hovering between the two? We don’t like self-help books and articles with complex explanations for human behaviour; we like when Tony Robbins tells us about the simple 6 human needs and the simpler 8 steps to happiness. We can’t explain the motivation behind why people give anonymous donations so we come up with altruism and say it provided an evolutionary advantage. All of these explanations could be true, who knows? Nobody, yet everybody.
Whatever the topic is, once you pick a coherent explanation for the phenomenon in question, then you can lay your head on your pillow in complete peace. We don’t like complexity, we don’t like being confused, and most of all, we don’t like not understanding. When there are definitive answers to questions, we believe them; when there are no definitive answers to questions, we find something else to believe.
Now, this isn’t a knock at the imperfections in human logic. Well, perhaps it is a little bit, but I accept that this is how we’re wired and I would never judge someone for believing something that they have no evidence to support – I am most likely guilty of the very same behavior. I am not saying this is wrong and this needs to change, I actually think it’s one of the most fascinating truths about human nature.
Even words like the ones I have written here are hard for people to accept (because it directly conflicts with our view or ourselves as reasonable and rational people), which will lead many will shake their heads and say this doesn’t accurately describe how they go about forming their views and beliefs.
So why do we do this? Ask yourself (if you can handle it without going insane), how would you be able to live your life without a blueprint for how life is supposed to be lived? Well, the sad truth is that it is very difficult to. But I don’t want to get wrapped up in the depressing part of this truth – we can use this information in a constructive way.
How frequently do disagreements stem from differing beliefs? There’s a reason that two of the three no-go topics on a first date are politics and religion. We don’t like people who have different views than us. We don’t even like people (like myself) providing information that contradicts our views regardless of whether the messenger believes it. If you can suppress this innate response and understand that those around you are simply trying to fill the same void that you are (the one that can’t handle complex, uncertain, middle-ground), then you won’t judge those who have differing views. While that takes a lot of self-security and strength, it will save you from many arguments, a lot of frustration, and perhaps most importantly, it will save you from many disappointing first dates!