How Can You Possibly Believe That? Understanding Your Enemy.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just want to switch off, exit the room, turn off the TV. How can anyone possibly hold those beliefs, think that what they are saying has any basis in rational thought! These days, be it climate control, gun control, immigration, or gay marriage, we find ourselves on the opposite end of an argument we just can’t fathom! This becomes even more disconcerting when we realize there are millions of people who seem to hold the contrary view that seems to us irrational or even outrageous!

My son made me think the other evening, when he used these words during a discussion, ‘Dad, that may be your opinion…’. We were discussing one of those thorny issues that has at least 2 sides, and he was playing devil’s advocate. I like that phrase; it implies what I am thinking or saying is good and pure, but what he has to say is tainted with evil! But as I thought about his comment, I realized that in so many situations, I consider myself right and anyone on the other end of my verbal punching bag to be wrong.

In so many discussions, what we are talking about is not based in fact, may not even sport an ‘established truth’, but consists of opinions expressed as fact or truth, but is merely an opinion. I realize that none of us have a monopoly on what is right or true, but how often do I argue as if I did? A recent discussion with a friend who works in the Oil industry on the science of climate change made me step back and question where I was actually deriving my ‘facts’ on the ‘science’. My initial response was to dismiss his debunking of human induced climate change because he worked for an oil company. Then I realized, that I had gleaned most of my information from the media and not from the appropriate scientific research.

It seems to me that we would better serve those we disagree with if we could step back and attempt to understand their position.   Perhaps, as in the case of my friend, we may have to admit to not knowing as much or understanding the issues as well as we might think.

Much of religious belief and the source of so much religious strife derives from opinions formed on the basis of established ‘wisdom’. But really? What do we actually know from religious texts, teaching handed down, historical accounts? Much of what I know can be attributed to what I have been taught or told by people I like or with whom I agree. Have I really entertained the ‘dark side’ of the argument or allowed its day in court?

I have recently sought to listen more carefully to the arguments of others. This entails not only hearing the words, but seeking to understand the motives and reasons behind them. Perhaps life experience has taught them something other than my own experience. Certainly they have received their ‘established wisdom’ from somewhere else. It is possible that they may be influenced by fear, real or imagined, or perhaps they possess information I do not have access to.

I may disagree wholeheartedly with the proposal to bomb Syria as a response to the bloody massacre in Paris last year. But do I have an alternative response that satisfies the outrage and fear engendered by this violent intrusion in the lives of those directly affected?

If I could step back and spend more time understanding those with whom I disagree, I just might learn something that would bring a more balanced approach. At the very least, I might actually foster closer relationships with those I think I don’t like. Heaven forbid we might find common ground and a mutual expansion of our vision of the world and the people around us!


  1. Wilbo says:

    Hello David,

    As we get older we sometimes realise that our belligerence was counter-productive; instead of changing minds and building bridges, it served to alienate us from others who had different perspectives.
    Indeed, it is true that no one knows everything, and yet in some Church quarters, they seem to have an answer for everything. But we can only know God in part and our view is “as through a glass dimly”.
    So perhaps it is this tendency to be a “smart Alec” that is part of our problem. Wisdom teaches us to wait and listen more, (I know this from bitter experience !!).
    Further, Love sees with different eyes… meanwhile we tend to look at the outside – how can we judge the heart?

    1. David says:

      Thanks for joining the conversation and for your contribution – I like your perspective on stepping back and not rushing with our opinions

  2. Daveen Wilson says:

    You are so right! Must learn to listen better…

    1. David says:

      I was speaking to myself more than anyone!

  3. Tim Cooper says:

    Amen! It seems to be in our nature as humans to readily accept positions that most closely align with our personal philosophy of life. To do otherwise would require us to question our own position and basis of faith … not something we tend to be very willing to do! Keep up the sharing through this blog!

    1. bgdavid says:

      Hi Tim

      Thanks for the encouragement. I am so glad you have joined in from across the world. I’m hoping that we can have some interesting discussions and maybe influence one another in the process.

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