You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. ~Matthew 7:5
I’ve been thinking a lot about tribalism, biases, and the difficulty of transcending our intellectual and ideological blind spots. (Several great books on the topic, but the one I’m currently reading is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.) To combat that in my own life, I realized that instead of focusing on refuting the arguments and character of “other” groups, I’d like to devote more time to thinking objectively about my own groups rather than those different from me.
To approach objectivity and start to gain a clearer view of the world, I (and we) have to break myself of two intellectual instincts-turned-habits: 1). Excusing the faults of my identified group and the people in them; and 2). Amplifying the faults of other groups and the people in them. We all do 1) in regards to our own political or cultural groups, and do 2) when evaluating other, or “The Other.”
But shouldn’t it be, to some extent, the opposite? We know our own groups far better than we know other groups, other ideologies, other perspectives. Shouldn’t we be more focused on improving our own groups and ideologies than pointing out the faults in others? Shouldn’t that be part of the way we love and honor our ideals? Of course, in larger debates (and certainly in voting), we should rally to the causes we believe in, even if they are pursued imperfectly, supporting them in the face of ideological opposition. That is the right, good thing to do, and a beautiful working out of the democratic ideal. But in the day-to-day, I’d like to see more self-critical work within groups, work led by those in the groups. Every group, however bounded/delineated/defined, is composed of just as many flawed, biased, irrational people as other groups. We may disagree about the extent to which other groups give in to flaws, biases, and irrationality, but it is ludicrous to assume we are not all limited by them.
On some level, this is not even an appeal to improved character, but to effectiveness. We rarely convince those who already disagree with us, and paradoxically, giving people evidence against their views just makes them dig in harder. We are, however, in a unique position of influence with those who already agree with us, who feel comfortable with the space we create for them in our belief system, and with those who break bread with us in the mundane moments of life. If we want to change the world, we must start where we can be effective. That is most often our closest circles.
I want to be able to recognize and acknowledge what is good and praiseworthy in those who think, believe, and act differently from me, just as I appreciate the good and praiseworthy things in my own ideological groups. I want to recognize and acknowledge the hypocrisies and irrationalities of my group’s belief system, just as I recognize them in other groups. In short, I just want to be more objective about myself and about others.
So that’s my goal and one I wish everyone would adopt: to take a critical eye and a crowbar to the planks in our own belief systems, to the ethos of our political/religious/social/cultural groups, and to the effects that our groups’ actions have on those around us. If we can’t do that, then we have no business assigning blame to anyone else.