I recently listened to the audio book You’re Not So Smart. It’s all about these psychological truths behind some of the most peculiar human behaviors. It’s about how we view ourselves, how we view others, and how we interpret the world around us.
Lately I’ve been finding myself questioning and rethinking a little bit of everything. Then I came across this blog post by the book’s author: The Backfire Effect. Here’s the main idea:
The Misconception: When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.
The Truth: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.
This seems counter-intuitive. But on closer examination it is easy to find examples of this. If you think you’re an awesome person, and someone tells you you’re an asshole, you’ll probably go “what did you say?” Or if your bank account balance is lower than you think it should be, you will double check it again to verify you really did spend $500 this month on chocolate ice cream.
For me, this is hard to accept but I have seen it at work in my conversations about Trayvon Martin, which of course brought up memories of OJ Simpson’s trial. Need I say more?
It’s hard to accept the fact that as human beings, we are generally not impressed by facts. This flies in the face of intellectualism. And I like to think I’m a pretty smart person.
But now I keep wondering, why do I do the things I do? And will figuring out the answer to that question change or help me at all? Would I even know what the right answer is? I have my doubts.
I have a core set of beliefs that I developed sometime during high school. In fact, I haven’t strayed far from them (in theory). The problem is I have changed. My life is very different than it was when I was 16 (thankfully), and I have learned new information since then. But somehow I can’t help but believe that I’ve spent most of that time disregarding information that didn’t confirm what I already believed.
I find this unsettling.
I know at the root of most of anyone’s so-called rational arguments about truth is some gut feeling (you just know). So I’m coming into an understanding and acceptance of the fact that we are not all Dr. Spock. Emotion is not the enemy. In fact, it is part and parcel of what makes us human beings.
And as unsettled as all the truthiness is floating around in my head, that idea is pretty comforting.