Why do we believe what we believe?

Published 10:49 am Tuesday, July 26, 2016

In the midst of this political season, our country seems more polarized than I can remember at any other point in my life. On issues such as immigration, health care reform, police accountability, and foreign intervention, people seem to have predetermined choices that are strongly split along party lines, with little variation on each side. Sadly, when I ask people why they believe in the things they do, I get answers mostly along the lines of “it’s just common sense.” But what factors drive your common sense?

From birth, we are engulfed by countless environmental factors that tell us how we should think about the world. Our parents, family members, and friends often dictate our likes, dislikes, fears, and personal values. Our teachers provide us with knowledge that is often laced with their own personal and subjective beliefs. Then, most of us take in several hours of media each day from sources like television, newspapers, and the internet, which often have their own intentional and unintentional goals and agendas. Depending on who and what we are exposed to, our definitions of common sense will inevitably vary.

I find it dangerous that we as a society have reached a point where we are unwilling to consider that some of our personal views are not absolutely accurate. The beauty of living under the United States’ First Amendment is that we are able to freely share any of our thoughts or ideas without obstruction, so long as doing so does not pose any immediate harm to another person. This provides the opportunity for us to sample different views to see whether or not they actually hold water when placed under scrutiny. By doing so, we are able to grow as individuals.

However, we have grown reluctant to take advantage of this opportunity. We praise our freedom of speech, but we rapidly become upset when people exclaim things that go counter to the way we currently think. If we as humans never considered new information, imagine all the things we would have forfeit. Minorities would be excluded from participating in government and in professional occupations. People would still be dying from diseases that are now managed with simple prescriptions. Also, think of all the technological advances in the past century that would not exist!

All of these were achieved because people were willing to go against the status quo in favor of finding a better way. Our Founding Fathers rejected their king and wanted to establish a country ruled by the people. Leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman fought the institution of slavery in spite of its long-standing precedent. Even within some of our lifetimes, civil rights activists such as MLK Jr. and Rosa Parks decided enough was enough and protested against systematic oppression, which paved the way for the Civil Rights Act.

My request for everyone is to not simply “go with the flow” and assume that everything we believe is absolute truth. Instead, be willing to consider the thoughts and opinions of others. Now, this does not mean that we should assume that everything said by others is correct. That is foolishness. However, we should spend some time contemplating at least some of the new information we encounter.

When you get a chance, find some reliable sources and see how accurate the new information is or is not. Maybe you can even organize some group discussions. At the end of the day, I think that if we believe something and do not know why, we owe it to ourselves to resolve that mystery. Maybe then, we as a nation can get back on track towards resolving our numerous issues instead of simply bickering among ourselves.


Clay Bunch is long-time resident of Murfreesboro. He is currently seeking local opportunities for medical shadowing or medical internships.