When I was at LogiCON on Saturday, one of the speakers mentioned how saying “you’re wrong” can easily be translated as “you’re stupid” or “you’re bad.” I think that this is a good point. I talk to a lot of people who believe things that I disagree with. Normally I ignore the belief, because it tends to only affect them. If someone wants to believe that aliens built the pyramids, whatever. As long as they aren’t forcing their beliefs on anyone else, I don’t really care. But sometimes I can’t not speak up. If I think that someone is doing something that will cause harm, then I want to at least encourage them to do otherwise.I cannot not speak up when someone wants to get rid of GM food altogether. If they want to eat organic, fine. But the organic food industry cannot support 7 billion people. I cannot not speak up when someone wants to give up necessary medicine and take alternative medicine instead. And I cannot not speak up when someone wants to force their religious beliefs into politics.
I’m fine with people believing whatever they want, but I’m not okay with them using their beliefs to cause harm. We all deserve to be treated with respect. That means that I respect their right to believe, but that also means that they respect my right to not believe. Keeping that in mind, how do we let someone know that they are wrong without making them feel stupid? Everybody does stupid things now and again, and we all hold certain beliefs that we aren’t willing to examine closely. But that doesn’t mean that we are stupid. It simply means that everybody is wrong sometimes.
I want to help people think critically about their beliefs. I want to encourage them to look more closely when I think that they are wrong. That doesn’t mean that I want them to change their mind. I simply want them to support their beliefs with concrete evidence. And I want them to do the same for me. I want them to point out when I am wrong and help me abandon the beliefs that I cannot support with evidence.
But this doesn’t seem to be how most people think. Most people seem to hold their beliefs up on a pedestal and won’t allow anyone to touch them with a ten foot pole. They take it personally when their beliefs are questioned. They also refuse to question others beliefs. They let their loved ones believe things that they see as wrong. This seems odd to me.
So how do we question peoples beliefs without putting them on the defensive? How do we assure them that we don’t think they are stupid? And how do we encourage them to do the same for others?