It appears that in times of increasing division and polarization, it’s easier to assimilate with one particular group or the other without critically thinking through that group’s morals, values, or platform.
This happens in all sectors of life including religious, political, societal, and cultural.
But why is this happening? That’s the question I keep on pondering as I continue to evolve and grow as a person with my own foundational beliefs and values. We all should be asking ourselves this question. But many of us don’t. Some reasons might include who has the time. I have a family, a job, other responsibilities: I don’t have time to think about this large, looming questions or these massive culture-shifting issues. Another reason might be does it matter. If it doesn’t affect me in my day-to-day life, do I have to bother with it? Do I have to care about it? Also, some might think what is the end goal here. If the end goal leads either nowhere or somewhere I don’t want to be, then I won’t engage with it.
Yet all of these reasons and more fall short when it comes to the concept that living in society is a communal act. Unless you want to be a hermit that never interacts with another human being or another human being’s thoughts and ideas, then that’s not an option. We all must choose to thoughtfully engage with the issues around us and the shifting cultural values.
We have to do this critically: meaning that we have to take into account perspectives from all sides of an issue and come to a precise and definitive conclusion, even if it doesn’t fit the groupthink aspect of a particular group you have an affinity or loyalty towards. This is hard work, but it is rewarding to be a free-thinker and to truly be an individual with robust ideas: ideas that might hold up or ideas that might be dismantled. Yet if you are willing to take this journey: know that you will make all sides angry if you truly choose not to go with the flow. But many times being critical, impartial, and thoughtful leads you down this path.
So, with all that being said; here are four ways you do to be a true free-thinker:
It has been said that knowledge is power. I believe this to be true. You are powerless to change your life if you don’t have the knowledge to do so. You must be willing to learn and to self-reflect on what you are learning. Be hungry to learn and to gather as much relevant, respectable information as possible. Don’t bother with fringe, extremist views. Find credible sources and look at all perspectives. Think through why you might not agree or disagree. Gather evidence and be prepared for critical response. As long as you have the information you need, you can be confident you are on your way to being a true thoughtful individual.
It an age of increasing fragility, don’t become a victim of your own cause and your own self-identity. Don’t become self-deprecating and self-loathing as many will seek to bully you into submission. Be a strong, confident individual who expresses humility, meekness, and resourcefulness in their approach. Aggressive does not mean being a bully. Name calling, dismissiveness, and “non-responses” are no way to demonstrate your position or beliefs. Just state the facts and evidence you have. Let others engage with that. If they cannot engage with what you have said and resort to these bully tactics, shut the conversation down and move on.
It has been said to be confident and I will emphasize that again. Shakiness and uncertainty are the bully’s fodder. There is seldom a worse feeling than feeling unstable as you continue to form and mold your worldview. A lot of that work has to be done in private or in conversations with people you trust. Much of the work of forming a worldview is done quietly in thoughtful contemplation. Confidence comes through certainty that you feel you are right and even when you are not, stating the reality that you might be wrong and are willing to re-examine such beliefs.
Pay attention! Life ebbs and flows and it’s important that you keep yourself abreast of the latest developments. It’s important to admit fault if you are wrong. It’s important to be confident if you are right. Always be willing to challenge your worldview and to constantly seek new evidence and new information that can enlighten and expand your beliefs. If you stop learning you stop growing. If you stop growing you stop having the ability to engage with others in a meaningful, compassionate, competent way.
Look, I know that its hard to engage with difficult, complex, important issues of our time. It’s especially difficult to engage with people that you disagree with and that disagree with you. But if we can’t talk about these important issues in respectful, thoughtful, engaging ways; then what are we doing as a society, as communities and as individual persons? We have to talk. We have to listen. We have to engage. We have to love each other through these discussions. In the end we must value each other as worthwhile beings over the dogma and beliefs we inhabit.