Seeking to find the humanity in the other may feel like an effort we just cannot make right now—the stakes are too high; there is too much to lose. How did we get here?
A scary factor of the 21st century so far is that many of the most successful companies are information/entertainment providers, and while some are not yet monopolies, their dominance is unquestionable. All over the world, whether we are progressive or conservative, we are likely to be influenced by the empires that feed us the media we consume. Our media choices lend support to our beliefs, but why did we choose those particular sources? Do we instantly base the worth and accuracy of new information on what we already believe? How much resistance do we feel when our beliefs are challenged?
When people allow their opinions to become their truths, we can watch them becoming unsociable in varying degrees. We all know people who hold strong opinions that cloud their ability to see any flaws in their thinking. We all see friends and family that used to avoid contentious topics amongst each other now finding they can’t be together at all. Are we ourselves like these people?
Even if we conscientiously fact check the accuracy of what we are reading or watching before we believe it or pass it along, perhaps we could dig deeper. If we explored the origins of our own beliefs, despite the discomfort that might arise, we might begin to understand how those with whom we disagree believe what they do. What, then, is gained by understanding the other?
Let’s see what Dr. Steiner* has to say:
Inasmuch as we devote ourselves inwardly to truth, our true self gains in strength and will enable us to cast off self-interest. Anger weakens us; truth strengthens us… Love of truth is the only love that sets the Ego (our “I”) free. And directly man gives priority to anything else, he falls inevitably into self-seeking. Herein lies the great and most serious importance of truth for the education of the human soul. Truth conforms to no man, and only by devotion to truth can truth be found. Directly man prefers himself and his own opinions to the truth, he becomes antisocial and alienates himself from the human community. Look at people who make no attempt to love truth for its own sake but parade their own opinions as the truth: they care for nothing but the content of their own souls and are the most intolerant. Those who love truth in terms of their own views and opinions will not suffer anyone to reach truth along quite a different path. They put every obstacle in the way of anyone with different abilities who comes to opinions unlike their own. Hence the conflicts that so often arise in life. An honest striving for truth leads to human understanding, but the love of truth for the sake of one’s own personality leads to intolerance and the destruction of other people’s freedom.
… [Truth] can be sought for and attained through personal effort only by beings capable of thought. Inasmuch as truth is acquired by thinking, we must realize very clearly that there are two kinds of truth. First we have the truth that comes from observing the world of Nature around us and investigating it bit by bit in order to discover its truths, laws and wisdom. When we contemplate the whole range of our experience in this way, we come to the kind of truth that can be called the truth derived from “reflective” thinking—we first observe the world and then think about our findings.
There are also other truths. These cannot be gained by reflective thought, but only by going beyond everything that can be learned from the outer world… [One is] derived from reflective thought and the other from “creative” thought.
Excerpt from: Metamorphoses of the Soul: Paths of Experience, Lecture 3: The Mission of Truth, 22/10/1909, Berlin by Rudolf Steiner
We may, occasionally, need to look away from the incessant news of the day and all of the opinions masquerading as truths that create such enormous inner turmoil. We can seek to understand others without justifying their ideas or actions. The path to eternal truth is not a straight line; it’s not even a single path—as many people as we are so are the number of paths to be taken. The error we see in the way others are going may not be an error for them; it may be exactly the way they need to go to get to the truth—the same truth toward which our own path leads us.
If we would seek ideas that are larger than the mundane world, we would have to accept that eternal truths are real and possible to know. If we resolve to learn these truths, we will do so by thinking creatively. If we don’t, humanity seems doomed to suffer the endless conflicts between people of differing ideologies, faiths, and cultures. Steiner points to ways we might pursue these truths.
Mistakes Were Made, (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy by Jonathan Taplin.