Here is one, universal truth: we, as a species, will never agree on any, one thing.
Not one. Not ever.
Here is another, universal truth: you will not change someone’s mind by telling them why they are wrong, or conversely, why you are right.
I’ve been present on this planet for twenty-five years, and I can faithfully say that I have never successfully changed someone’s mind by jumping in with arguments as to why their viewpoint is incorrect and, conveniently, mine is correct. I don’t believe this will ever change.
(Despite many, many attempts across each and every facet of my life.)
Which leads us to a third, universal truth: Right and wrong are subjective, because truth itself is subjective, when it is a personal truth.
There is no black, there is no white, there is only gray. Each of us has a unique set of eyes and experiences the world in a unique way; our shades of gray are all in slightly different tones and variations, some see more shades than others, and some see less. Each one of us has a truth based on what we see — we create it from the information we have available. It can change and adapt, but only if we allow it to.
We must be open to new information in order to be open to changing our minds.
The surest way to make someone defensive is to attack them. And the surest way to make someone feel attacked, short of physically assaulting them, is to attack one of their core beliefs — this is why it is futile to simply tell people they are wrong and list off your supporting evidence. You’ve already put them on the defense, and they are no longer open to you or the things you are saying — instead, they are acting from a place of self-preservation which can override higher executive functioning.
The logic of your argument doesn’t matter, they are no longer in a place to appreciate it. Instead, you can only show them by demonstrating and explaining, and allow them to decide themselves.
You have to live your truth.
A lot of us get caught up in trying to find a way to make the world a better place. We see injustice and prejudice, racism and sexism, and we want to tell those who are perpetrating it that they are wrong. We try to find some way to fight it. Sometimes, we refuse to associate with it at all.
But this doesn’t help, because we are showing all those who engage in those behaviors that their behavior is correct, that it is warranted. When we don’t agree with something, we isolate it, we turn it away, we reject it, we fight it, sometimes violently.
When we preach tolerance of other people’s beliefs but refuse to tolerate the beliefs that we don’t agree with, we become part of the problem.
True tolerance means understanding that people will believe differently than you, sometimes by huge margins. True tolerance means you look for the good in them anyway. You find the parts of them that you do agree with, the parts that are still worthy of love, and you love them. You tell them that you don’t agree with some of their beliefs, you tell them which ones, but you love them anyway.
You teach them, by demonstrating the tolerance you preach, that allowing other people to have different beliefs does not harm you.
Anger, aggression, violence — these all stem from places of fear. We need to show people that believing differently doesn’t have to equate with fighting and hurting.
We need to show people that believing differently is not a justification for hate.
As individuals it is not our job to fix the entire world, to right all the wrongs.
As individuals it is our job to positively effect the small circles we can reach. Look for the good in the people around you, honor it in spite of their many beliefs, different or similar to yours, and teach people what true tolerance means by living your truth, honoring your beliefs, as best as you can.
Argue when you want to argue, explain your reasoning. But remember that the only way to truly change someone’s mind is to invite them to change it themselves. Show them new information, demonstrate the power of your beliefs by living them, and allow others to learn or not learn from you as they so decide.
We are not our beliefs. We are the sum of the actions we take on behalf of our beliefs.
So act accordingly.
*Article originally posted on Medium