What to Believe

Dear Wombat and Dingbat, 

I have read and strongly believe that discussion with people, and hearing out different opinions is a great way to learn more, develop empathy, and broaden your horizons. I have found however that it can get rather overwhelming and confusing when you are trying to develop your OWN opinion.  How does one reconcile learning to consider the wisdom of others, with *also* learning to strengthen one’s own inner voice?

Listening Too Hard

Dear Listening,

This is a fascinating question. I have never had the slightest difficulty in developing my own opinion.

I can vouch for that.

But really, you are asking about how we know what is true, which is a great question for a dog-losopher. For most people (if not dogs) there is a strong tendency to see the world through the lens of what you already know, and to look only at evidence that supports what you already believe. This is called confirmation bias.

I thought confirmation bias was when a judge in the show ring likes one dog better than another because of who is handling it.

That’s conFORmation bias. Totally different thing.

Oh. You really do know a lot.

I do. So if you learned something from me (and what haven’t you?) then you could pretty well assume it’s true. But a lot of people go around believing stuff that’s just demonstrably wrong, and not listening to the people who tell them so. Worse yet, it turns out that if someone believes something strongly, presenting them with facts that contradict their beliefs will only strengthen what they already believe.

That’s weird.

Also extremely frustrating. That’s humans for you. But Listening seems to be different from most humans in that they are actively seeking out other people’s point of view. Which is great. But how do you know who is right?

I have you. You tell me.

True. And now I’m going to tell Listening. Whenever humans talk about things they “know,” they are always talking about both facts and feelings. And feelings almost always come out ahead of facts. People feel what they feel, and then they attach meaning to it that they then call “truth.”

That was confusing. I feel what I feel, and then usually I bark. Or wiggle. Or both.

No one would accuse you of over-intellectualizing. But it’s true for everyone that feelings come first, and then people arrange the facts around their feelings. I mean, if they get around to thinking at all, which apparently is not everyone. But here’s the thing. Feelings are not wrong. They are just feelings. Everyone–people, dogs, camels, whatever–has feelings. They aren’t something that is up for discussion or debate.

When I get excited and yell at a cat on the driveway you sure seem to want to debate about that.

No. Your feelings of being excited are your feelings. Your needing to bark about your feelings is what is up for debate. Frankly, I feel like that debate should have been settled in a quieter direction long ago.

But I digress. Listening is right that it’s good to hear a wide range of opinions, and to talk with people who disagree with you. You can push back against your own confirmation bias that way. And one way to make yourself less defensive is to remember that everyone is talking from their own feelings, which they are entitled to.

However, that doesn’t mean that you need to accept their beliefs, which are the things people create when they try to gather up information around their feelings. Everyone, as the famous saying goes, is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. Facts are testable. There are more and less reliable sources of information, and you can do research to determine whether what someone says is verifiably true. You can listen openly to what someone says but still know that they are wrong.

So after they understand the facts and the feelings, how does Listening know what is right? How do they settle on their own opinion? If, I mean, if they don’t have you to tell them.

I would suggest to Listening that they start with identifying what their central values are. Then they can evaluate both their own thoughts and the opinions of other people based on a strong core sense of what most matters to them.

That is good. I have been working on my core. I do exercises where I stand on wobbly things.

I suspect that your brain is the bit that is wobbly.

I have core values.

Really?

I believe in love. And snacks.

Dingbat, sometimes I underestimate you.

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1 thought on “What to Believe

  1. Thank you Wombat, this is great advice (as expected). I have to now work on practicing this, I find myself wearing my judgemental glasses way more often nowadays!

    Dingbat, you are my soul-pup. We share the exact same core values. I think I’m going to take a page from your book and start strengthening my core by standing on wobbly stuff too 🙂

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