The hazards associated with “people who think differently than you do”

The man had a straight razor held to my neck and he was MAD!

I had been coming to this funky old barber shop in Longmont, CO for several years, now.  It was really cool because it had been in operation, as a barber shop, in this location, for over 100 years.  I would frequently tell my friends that it was just like stepping into a Norman Rockwell painting and getting my hair cut.  Plus, I would get a really great haircut at a reasonable price.

I also enjoyed the “male energy” in there.  The men would talk about fishing and motorcycles and football, and things like that.  Healing of my own male energy has been a major theme of my adult life.  (I actually did not start liking football until I was in my late 40’s.)  So it was fun to get my haircuts there and hang out in this energy.

Politics did not become much of an issue until Obama got elected.  As long as Bush was in office, George, one of the barbers there, (not his real name) was pretty content.  I would listen to his point of view, find it interesting, and present some of my own.  I was under the mistaken impression that we were having an intellectual discussion for the purpose of our mutual learning and growth.

Then one day, a few days after Obama got elected, I came in for a haircut.  “I bet you voted for Obama,” one of the barbers said.  “I was a delegate for Obama,” I replied.  Dead silence.  After a time, George began to mutter things about Obama that I knew were not true.  “Born with a silver spoon in his mouth.”  “Well, I am all for a black president, but not him…

Foolishly, I presented the truth as I understood it to be.  “He was raised by a single mom and his grandparents.”  “His mother died of cancer while they were arguing with the health insurance company about what would be covered.”

From the look I received from George, I knew I had just made a serious mistake.  After all, this man had a straight razor held to my neck and he was MAD!

So what is this that makes some Republicans hate some Democrats, and vice versa?  What is it that makes Al Quaeda hate Americans and all that we stand for?  What is the underlying mechanism behind holy wars?  And what is it that makes it painful for me to listen to Fox news, or for my neighbor (I assume) to listen to NPR?

All of these things represent a challenge to our paradigms.  One thing about paradigms is that they tend to protect themselves from new information.  “Galileo’s accusers refused to look through his telescope,” so the legend goes.

I find myself considering that maybe there is some survival benefit associated with this tendency.  After all, people who think like you are more predictable and trustworthy.  You have a much better idea what to expect from them.  People who think differently from you are unpredictable, and you don’t have any idea what they might say or do.  I can imagine in the past, that there was much more actual physical danger associated with people who thought differently than you, maybe because they were from a neighboring village where they worshiped different Gods, might attack in the middle of the night, or whatever.   So maybe this tendency to mistrust people who think differently than you do does have some survival benefit, and maybe there is some sort of mechanism in our DNA that makes this tendency stronger in some people than in others.

So what can we do with this information that is actually useful in a practical way?  One of the key ideas in The Music of Systems is that all paradigms are approximations of the Truth.  If you find yourself getting angry or upset when hearing information that you disagree with, you can notice that and learn about yourself, that you may have just reached the edge of your paradigm.  You can learn what it feels like when your paradigm is being challenged with information which, if true, would cause you to have to reorganize the way you look at the world.  For most people, this is somewhat uncomfortable.  For some, it is absolutely enraging.

The challenge for all of us is to expand our paradigms by taking in new information, so that they become progressively more and more accurate approximations of the Truth.  That uncomfortable feeling you experience in the presence of information that you disagree with is your signal that this means now.  That uncomfortable feeling means that you have an opportunity to receive new information and rethink your world-view.  Doesn’t mean that everything they are saying is truth.  It does mean that there may be something there for you to learn.

Not very many people I know, do this very well.  Yet this is one of the most important skills for us all to develop, if we are to have Peace on Earth.

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