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06 March, 2009

Beliefs: Why Am I Even Thinking About This?

The impetus for this project came about as a result of some cognitive dissonance that I experienced. This summer, I went to lunch with a colleague. I did not know this colleague well prior to the lunch. I only knew her through a mutual connection, and this lunch was loosely business, but mostly just a social engagement. It was *not* a date. I was dating, and she is married, and there were no doubts about that.

We went to lunch in Redmond, at Spazzo, I believe. And what I discovered at this lunch was that this woman might be the most polar opposite to me in every imaginable way, of any human being I have ever spoken with for any duration. Going right down the list, she was neo-conservative, gun owner, Israel supporter, anti-taxation, hated Clinton, loved Reagan, pro-life, drove a giant SUV, had a live-in nanny, plans for as many children as she could possibly have, materialistic, pro-death penalty, anti-Islam, anti-France, anti-Canada (!), opposed to national healthcare, and anything else vaguely socialistic, and basically considers Europe to be a bunch of failed systems. So, you name it, and we disagree on it.

And the thing that was dissonant for me was this:  I really like her, and find her (still) to be an incredibly compelling person. She is energetic, positive, caring, funny, generous, thoughtful, engaging. And above all, she seems intelligent, and measured in her views. Many extreme right-wing people that I have known have been unwilling to tell me *why* they feel a certain way, when pressed. They would fall back on excuses, or generalities, or just say that it's just how they feel. This woman had reasons. The fact that I disagree with her conclusions is another story. But the fact that she had reasons made me have to stop and think: 

Is there an absolute right and wrong in this world? Or is everything just a matter of point of view?

And that was a rather disturbing thought, because I like thinking I am right. I like thinking that we liberals are the ones who really "get it". But there was nothing about this woman that made me able to dismiss her as an idiot, or selfish, or crazy. 

And there was born the seed of the question: Why do we believe what we believe? How do we come to believe it? What is a belief, even? 

And it's not an easy question to ask, or to answer. People are so used to talking about their beliefs, but it's a completely different story to throw away the content, and merely try to understand the container that holds the content. I'll tell you up front that I don't have any answers. Like I said in the last entry, I learned a lot of intriguing things, but not about how people form beliefs. Nonetheless, I ask you to read onward...

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