Why is it that we shy away from complexity? Understandably, clarity is nice to have. We must make assumptions, categorize things, and avoid questioning everything all the time if we want to be able to live in any functional way.
Yet it seems that in doing so, we so often miss the point entirely. Assumptions turn into world views, and the world gets separated into those who share that view and those who do not. Them and us – with them being wrong and us being right, of course!
It is easy to divide the world into right and wrong, whether we base it on systems of governance, religious beliefs or dessert choice (cheesecake is best, obviously). Suddenly, the world seems conveniently simple. We know what is good and what is not, and if only everyone saw our Capital-T-Truth everything would be fine. Right?
Well, of course not. Writing it like this makes it seem pretty silly already. And satisfying as it may be to impose our world view on other people, experience shows that it never lasts. If it does, then only through repression and immeasurable suffering.
Unfortunately, the Us-vs-Them worldview seems to be hardwired into us. The study linked here looked at what happens in our brains when our political beliefs get challenged. The short answer is: Oh boy. The long answer is written out in blood, throughout our entire collective history.
I think one of the main reasons why this is the case is our tendency to avoid complexity. Annoyingly, in almost every discussion on pretty much anything, all positions involved have some merit. Often this is because they are all true in their own way and just approach a given topic from different perspectives.
But even if we think someone holds a probably wrong opinion, it is usually based on some understandable circumstance. Maybe they got their opinion from a trusted person. Maybe it is based on an understandable misinterpretation. Maybe there is an ingrained bias that skews their perspective..
Whichever case it is, though, I think our only hope of overcoming the barriers posed by the differences in opinions is by being open for the complexity that underlies them. Make no mistake, doing this properly is hard, it can sometimes be incredibly frustrating – especially if we think the other person is demonstrably false.
Still, any other approach will at best prolong the confrontation – and at worst, escalate it. Leo Tolstoy famously said: “Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner.” To understand all is to forgive all. Because it is hard to hold grudges when we understand the other’s position. Then, and only then, do we have a chance to truly overcome the conflicts of our time, whether they are caused by dessert, questions of faith and governance, or anything else.