As political and social tensions rise to unprecedented heights — save for pre-Civil War era America — a growing belief that a person’s beliefs determine their worth is gaining conscious and unconscious popularity.
In his book I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already, author Roger L. Simon highlights the difference between the statements “I am best” and “I know best.” Essentially, the first statement is dubbed an almost necessary belief a person holds about themselves in order to compete in their chosen field and in life. The latter statement, dubbed the morally narcissistic belief, reveals that a person insists that their belief system holds authority over all other belief systems. Further, they believe that convictions that vary from their own degrade a person’s worth. They, as stated, know best. Period.
The trouble with a person, or people, who believe they know best is that they often pretend to be open-minded until their belief system is challenged. Once challenged, respectful debate is abandoned and personal attacks against their challenger ensue. Anyone who disagrees with their belief system is degraded, ostracized, and dehumanized.
Remember the Human Dignity of Yourself and Other People
It’s time that we remind ourselves and each other of this seemingly simple statement: we’re all human. First and foremost, before our stance on taxes, abortion, climate change, the second amendment, immigration, and COVID-19, we’re all human beings. Whoever we vote for, the hand that picks up the pen in the voting booth is attached to a unique creation, unlike anyone else who has ever lived before them or will ever live after them. We’re not the sum of our beliefs. We’re incredibly complex creatures, divinely created, and we have worth and value that extends far beyond our belief system.
To illustrate my point, think of a baby. Have you ever held a baby? When that child’s mother hands her baby to you, you know you’re receiving something precious. You hold them with care. You listen to them when they cry, and you tend to their fussing. You engage with them. Of course, they will grow up to develop their own beliefs, some of which you may not agree with, but in your memory, you will remember them for who they were detached from their belief system: a precious human being.
As human beings, we have worth and value that extends far beyond our belief system.
When we place a person’s belief system before their humanness, we risk dehumanizing them when we inevitably discover topics of disagreement. Sweeping generalizations make way for prejudices. Prejudices bleed into animosity. Animosity is a breeding ground for war.
Is war really what we want? Are we satisfied with burning cities, keyboard warriors hurling dehumanizing insults at each other, neighbors turning against each other, families losing respect for their differently convicted relatives? Are we so willing to forsake unity to perpetuate the lie that “I know best”?
Having Convictions Is Good
We should have convictions. We should debate those convictions passionately. Convictions drive our ideologies and our activism, and they help us decide on a mate and shape so many aspects of our personalities. Convictions drive out apathy and promote concern for the welfare of our communities and our world. Convictions can’t, however, determine a person’s worth. They’re a statement about a person’s belief system, but they don’t serve to dictate if a person is deserving of dignity. We don’t have the power to rescind a person’s dignity or their status as a precious human being, no matter where their convictions lie.
Convictions drive out apathy and promote concern for the welfare of our communities and our world.
I played sports in high school, and after every game — win or lose — we shook hands with the other team. No matter how intense the rivalry or how high the emotions, no player was permitted to leave the field without respectfully congratulating the other team on a good game. Whatever happened during the game, sportsmanship was a non-negotiable requirement on our team. Whether on the playing field or in life, we all have the capacity to treat each other with respect.
Engage in Political Dialogue with Respect
As we forge ahead into election season here in the United States, it’s of crucial importance that we recognize each other’s humanity before we enter into any kind of political dialogue with each other, and we must remember each other’s humanity in the heat of debate and the passion of intellectual exchange in our conviction-driven conversations.
We don’t have the power to rescind a person’s dignity, no matter where their convictions lie.
So, have that debate. Battle it out over coffee with your differently convicted friend. Find competing information and create rebuttal arguments to bring back to the coffee shop on your next visit. Engage in tough conversations and passionately discuss issues concerning the welfare of your communities and of our world. Listen to their arguments, even if it doesn’t change your stance. And at the end of every conversation, shake hands and bid each other farewell.
We’re all trying to create a better, more prosperous world to live in and to pass down to the next generation. As we debate on the best solutions to improve the welfare of our world, we must first begin with improving how we see each other.