General Question

Fyrius's avatar

How can I stop worrying about what other people believe?

Asked by Fyrius (14506 points ) May 21st, 2009

Serious question.

I understand it’s in my own best interest to learn not to cringe at every contrived conviction, far-fetched faith or preposterous persuasion I come across. I understand I should learn not to rush to every opportunity I get to advocate critical thinking and encourage scepticism. I need to learn to let people be horribly wrong and not care.

The thing is, I can’t get myself to. It feels wrong. It feels like looking the other way, giving up on people, not taking them seriously. I’ve always lived by the principle of always listening to what anyone has to say. And I think it’s my responsibility to try to help people see reason when I think I can.

And when I try to ignore them, I just keep thinking “but I must fight the stupid!” And I’m afraid that eventually I’ll have to reply “no Fyrius, you are the stupid.” And then Fyrius was a bigot.

If only someone could convince me it’s okay that there exist bigots and delusional people and ignorami who think they have all the answers.

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26 Answers

augustlan's avatar

I used to have the same issues with people’s ignorance as you do. The cure? Well, for me, it was having children. I now feel like it’s my responsibility to teach them to be critical thinkers, along with being compassionate, open minded, etc. Decent human beings, in essence. I have my 3 kids to send out into the world. That is my sphere of influence.

That, along with teaching by example are about the best you can hope for on a regular basis. Now, if it’s something I feel very strongly about, and I do have any influence over the individual… it’s game on. For instance, I listened to lots of bigots I didn’t know during the presidential election and I didn’t say a freakin’ word to try to change their minds. However, I did convince my husband and best friend (both Republicans) to vote for Obama. I felt very passionately about it, and I confronted their belief systems in a very methodical way, addressing every objection they had with facts. It took a long time, and lots of hard work… even some arguments, but I didn’t let it go.

In a nutshell (a little late for that, I know), pick your battles and win.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

The thing is, you never will be able to fully stop. People that are capable of such a great depth of emotion and thought… Care. Which is different than most people you see in your day to day life, so relating to them is next to impossible.

One thing that helped me a little bit was realizing that maybe I shouldn’t bother with certain (most) people at all, because if they’re ever going to learn anything, it needs to be on their own. Some people, I realize, are lost and always will be. There is nothing that I can do about it.

This is where augustIan’s suggestion comes into play. Some people, while a little misinformed about things, have a chance. It is on people like that that I’m willing to spend my time. To spend time on all of the stupid people will only set yourself up for depression and despair. Trust me, I know… I’ve been there multiple times and I still have problems with it every once in a while. Just choose people who, in your mind, are worthy of your time. They may be few and far between, but some are out there.

wildpotato's avatar

Try solipsism. Then it’s ok that ignorant people exist, because they really don’t.

Jack_Haas's avatar

You could try humility… oh sorry I forgot, you know everything, it’s those who don’t share your beliefs that have a problem.

lillycoyote's avatar

I guess my comment is a mixture of the advice that has already been given, and a little more. One of the first steps in the fight for truth and reason is learning to distinguish between people who are stupid, irrational, delusional, bigoted and “horribly wrong” and people who merely disagree with you or believe something different than you. Additionally, if you go into debate, conversation or exchange with the attitude that the other person is ignorant, irrational, possibly even delusional it is most likely that that person will only become further entrenched in his or her position. Also, when you say listen to what other people have to say are you really listening or are you merely keeping your mouth shut while you wait for a chance to tell them how wrong they really are? And… critical thinking and skepticism sometimes means questioning your own assumptions too. But, in the end as augustian and DrasticDreamer have said, you really have to choose your battles. You have to learn and accept, sadly, that you simply cannot reason with people who cannot be reasoned with. It is that simple. And you need to perhaps look at your own motives, and this is something I have gone through and come to realize as I have gotten older. If you are really interested in furthering the cause of truth and reason then you will generally focus on people who can be persuaded and reasoned with and you will find ways to approach them, and sometimes, my friend, you have sneak up behind people and kiss them on the back of the head with truth and reason, rather clobber them on the head with a club of what you think is truth and reason. You really will get farther that way. However, if you are only interested in being right, only interested in proving that someone else is ignorant, irrational and delusional, you will most likely get nowhere with people.

eupatorium's avatar

I have the same issue as you. I used to annoy the heck out of my classmates and family, but I think I’m getting better. Try this (its what I’ve been doing): Everytime you want to call someone/thing out, stop and think “what will I achieve from saying this?” More likely than not, your answer will be “nothing. It’s no use.” I do it all the time, even put it in context of the world. I wonder if chiming in can somehow make a difference. I guarantee you, if you think about this, you’ll start to notice how often its better to just grin and bear it. I think it’s working for me. But you’d have to ask my friends…

justwannaknow's avatar

You speak your mind on here. Stay with it and do not worry what others think. I don’t and I do not agree with you on some subjects but I will sleep well tonight anyway.

wundayatta's avatar

How long have you been at it? I’ve been at it for nigh onto forty years. After a while, I got tired of banging my head against the wall. I thought, ‘there’s something wrong with this picture.’ Eventually, I got the idea of trying to understand where other people’s ideas come from, and how they help them.

I realized there’s no percentage in trying to take something away from someone when they rely on it. I can tell them my way will help even more, but maybe not. Not everyone has a tolerance for a huge level of uncertainty.

Anyway, I started listening as best I can. I often don’t do well at it, but I’m trying. I don’t take other people’s views personally any more. Arguing, I see as a game. Something we do for fun, but not because there’s any hope of changing minds.

It’s a long haul, you know. People will eventually see things in a clearer light. Education helps. Just keep on plugging, but don’t take it personally, or very seriously. Also, listen. Really listen. You’ll learn a lot, but not what the people you’re listening to think you are learning.

BBSDTfamily's avatar

Get a life of your own, and your mind will not drift into other people’s lives as often.

susanc's avatar

Become a teacher and write articles. Why fight it? Argue for rationality and critical thinking on the public stage.

augustlan's avatar

@susanc Now there’s an idea! GA.

Fyrius's avatar

@augustlan, @DrasticDreamer, @eupatorium: Being selective about whom to confront, weighing my chances to actually achieve anything… I’ll try that.
It’s a disappointing thought that for most people there’s just nothing I can do, but I guess I’ll just have to accept it.
Thanks.

@wildpotato: Hahaha. No, that’s not going to work.
Not going to adopt a radical world view only because it lets me ignore one problem.

@Jack_Haas: Hey, screw you, mate. I’m open-minded enough.
Have you ever seen me tell anyone they’re wrong without hearing them out first and seriously evaluating their views?

@lillycoyote: I know the difference between “irrational and bigoted” and “not thinking like me”, all right. I only dub people the former after repeated efforts to reason with them have shown they’re not just the latter.
I do listen to other people with the intention of actually understanding where they’re coming from, putting myself in their world view. That’s the only way to put up an effective argument anyway.
I question and reconsider my own assumptions all the time.

But yes, I am interested in “winning” and in being right where other people are wrong. And although I’m confident that even the most furious frenzy of fervour isn’t very liable to override my objectivity, it worries me that I indulge in the passion of polemic.
I’m worried about being more of just a sophisticated drama addict than of a veritable intellectual. I realised yesterday that for example I wouldn’t be nearly as knowledgeable about evolutionary biology if Creationism wouldn’t be such a great opponent to rant against.
I blame it on my age. I’m a young guy coming of age, with a need to prove myself to myself. I’ll have to ask you to forgive me for that. I hope to grow out of it.
Hence too this thread. I would like to refind my peace of mind, and to silence this seduction to bigotry.

I’m not sure how to “sneak up behind people and kiss them on the back of the head with truth and reason”. I habitually just openly and casually point out why I think an argument is invalid.

@BBSDTfamily: Getting a life? That’s not my thing at all.

Kayla654321's avatar

I think I can understand your problem. Personally, I like to practice apathy. Hahaha.

alive's avatar

what works for you might not work for everybody else.

for example: i do not believe in god, but one of my best friends does. what works for her does not work for me. and what works for me does not work for her.

as long as someone’s beliefs are not violent or harmful (like lets say homophobia) then they as just as free to hold their beliefs as i am to hold mine.

sure we can talk about the differences. but talking should not be mistaken for “helping people see the truth”. and “helping” can often appear to the “helped” as some guy being a dick because he thinks he is always right.

i think it is more important to practice my NON-argumentative speech than my argumentative speech. i don’t want to live a life where everything is an argument, and if i did, not many people would want to be around me.

that is why my best friend and i can get along even on opposite ends of the spectrum. because i know she has thought about her decision and she knows i have thought about mine. and we can still love each other and respect each other despite our differing view points.

wildpotato's avatar

:) A more serious suggestion: try to keep in mind that most stupendously stupid people are really good at at least one thing, or they couldn’t have survived this long. Think about it, and I bet you will come up with some poeple you know who are like this. From my own observations, I concluded that the character Michael in “the Office” is not really as much an hyperbole as he seems (stupid, selfish, ignorant, but a good businessman). And that a lot of the people who put forth opinions in ignorance do so because they love to argue (the people I have known who are like this love arguing for the attention), not because they really believe in the content of what they say. I know it feels wrong, as you said in your initial post, to give up on people or not take them seriously, but there are times when this is the appropriate reaction.

alive's avatar

when i was sitting in the car today listening to music, something occurred to me.

a good apology for your question is music. personally i am a music snob, and very picky and judgmental about music. but i don’t expect everyone to listen to the SAME type of music i listen to, i just expect that they have their reasons for liking their kind of music, just as i have my reasons.

you can judge the music to be shitty. and you can even judge the reasons that they like that particular kind of music to be shitty. but the fact is that kind of music is liked by more than one person and it is not going away. you don’t have to like it or listen to it, but other people can if they want.

you can try to open them up to a larger repertoire but in the end, it is not your decision.

i hope that shed some light on your question!

augustlan's avatar

@alive Did you mean ‘analogy’?

alive's avatar

ha, opps yes yes… *analogy!!! anyway, you get the point! =)

augustlan's avatar

I did, and it was a good one!

Fyrius's avatar

@alive: I’m not convinced.
There’s one crucial difference between beliefs and tastes in music. Whether a song is good or bad is completely subjective, and so there’s no right and wrong about it. But as for whether an assertion is true or false, there is always a definite objective answer to that. Either it is true or it is not. And often it is possible to determine which is it, or to assess which is it to satisfactory degrees of certainty.

People are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. The analogy disregards this distinction.

alive's avatar

it is true that “facts” in the world exist. but how humans interpret those facts ranges across a wide spectrum.

subjects that are hot topics like politics and religion etc, really do not have “facts. they are mostly about taste, and mostly about subjective view points and mostly ambiguity. they are topics which can only be defined in human terms (and humans are not the end all be all in the entire universe). so if humans have multiple angles to define a topic from, that would imply there are multiple certainties that can be deduced and thus multiple truths.

like right now, the fact that i think most things come down to taste or different perspectives, and you think most things come down to “facts” is a debate that we can have for a long time (and has been going on for a long time) and might never be settled.

there are some beliefs that i hold very dear and that i am willing to die for, and i think everyone has at least one (the civil war showed us that slavery was one of these issues people would die for), and i’m sure there are people who will put their life on the line to oppose me, but i think it is a victory for all if we can postpone any act of violence forever…

even if that means debating forever.

what is most important is having a functioning society, and i think all but a very small few would agree.

alive's avatar

Q: are you familiar with pragmatism at all? i don’t know if europeans study it (your profile says you’re dutch, do you live in holland?)

long story short it is the only american school of philosophy and it grew out of what we like to call “the great experiment,” meaning the experiment of democracy. in a democracy that is very diverse it is necessary that everyone have a voice. so it sucks that we have to listen to a bunch of garbage, but the alternative is much worse (violence and war. people will fight for something if they believe in it enough) one civil war was enough for me thank you!

Fyrius's avatar

I would still insist that there is a clear distinction between things that are inherently subjective and things that are inherently not.
Things that are subjective include indeed politics, ethics, parts of religion and musical tastes. I generally have no trouble leaving people alone about these things.
Things that are not subjective include the physical world, history, the real world assertions religions make and alternative medicine. For example, it can be objectively verified that the earth is round, the holocaust really happened, prayer has no statistically significant influence on anything besides personal state of mind, and endlessly diluted water without a single atom of active ingredient will not cure anything besides dehydration. I wouldn’t say most subjects worthy of debate can be decided by objective facts, but those that can, should be.

I’m completely cool with having to listen to people publicly being full of it. I’m all for the freedom to say outrageously stupid things. And I’m all for the freedom to point out just how outrageously stupid these things are.
But I’m looking for a reason not to attempt the latter at every opportunity.

And yes, I live in the Netherlands in Europe.

alive's avatar

you know when an old person says something really racist that only someone from their generation would honestly say thinking that it is not racist. and you just smile and nod because they are old.

just do that. smile and nod and never say a complete sentence. i always go with “hmm, welp…”

if i met a holocaust denier who was like 80 and falling apart i would not even bother having that conversation.

Aster's avatar

I’m with @wildpotato . I was married for many yrs to a man who would yell and scream if you didn’t see the way the grass grew like he did. I even got hit in the chest with an flying orange once. We don’t want to be like him , do we.
Try exercising a little acceptance. You may live longer.

Fyrius's avatar

@Aster
Thanks for your input.

It’s been one year since this thread. Here’s an update.
I think I’ve got the hang of this by now, albeit not so much in acceptance as with a shrug of resignation. A “watcha gonna do, believers gonna believe” sort of stance. Some people are just too far gone, if you’ll pardon the phrase, so you might as well leave them be.

Unless their ignorance has some political significance, or they’re being jerks about the things they’re being stupid about. Then I’m going to try anyway, if not for their education, then at least for providing some opposition.

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