Some people’s beliefs seem carved in stone, thought of as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. An idea can be so firmly entrenched that any clear evidence to the contrary will be summarily dismissed without actual examination. You’ll find people arguing whether we actually put a man on the moon or whether it was a government PR gimmick. There is a flat Earth society and those who insist that 911 was a government conspiracy. Some people yell, “Fake news,” when facts indicate otherwise.

Why do people hang so desperately onto ideas when presented with abundant evidence to the contrary? First, it is comfortable for some to have their personal, unshakable truth. They don’t have to spend time wondering about anything further. Many people admire those with firm convictions. They are considered persons of exemplary character and credit to their group. For those not so dedicated to fixed ideas, analyzing new data that constantly challenges old ideas can be exhausting. I know, I’ve been there.

We tend to align ourselves with groups of people who believe similarly. To maintain cohesion, they must have a base of unchangeable truths that are agreed upon. Anyone who accepts new, contrary ideas is looked upon as an aberrant member, and the rest will act to correct them. They will either attempt to save the straying person from outside influences, returning them to the group, or will no longer associate with the individual. This may be as simple as avoiding them or as radical as expelling them.

Unfortunately, fixed beliefs have the liability of attracting those who intend to exercise personal power over others. While pretending to be a devout adherent, an unscrupulous person may covertly carry out plans against individuals or the group. Pedophiles posing as teachers, counselors, priests, and other honorable professionals have gained access to children. Ministers have built massive churches and congregations for personal gain. Some take law enforcement jobs to act out their violent impulses. Despite efforts at screening those deemed unfit, the occasional deceptive miscreant will slip through the cracks and wreak mayhem while being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

A firm set of positive beliefs is often good for everyone concerned. In most cases, it is the glue that binds the best of groups, states, and nations together. However, without the ability to change our ideas, we would still allow only white male landowners to vote, and we would still have slavery. Anyone who acted a bit differently would be designated as a witch or heretic and would be burned at the stake. I would likely be jailed for some of the things I’ve written or at least soundly criticized. In today’s world, being open to examining new ideas is more important than ever.

With cell phones, radio, TV, social media, and a mobile population, we need to cast a questioning eye on every so-called “fact” presented daily, if not on an hourly, basis. Be aware that someone promoting any idea as indisputable fact may have their own agenda; if so, the truth is seldom their first priority.

As you can see, there are advantages to having firm beliefs. At the same time, if those ideas are so firmly fixed as to be immovable, they can be a liability. The ability to analyze new ideas without feeling threatened by them is optimum. Of course, that is the more challenging road, but in my experience, it is the most rewarding.

Jerry Society & Culture

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