Most of us would consider any threat to our expression of opinion or belief to be a threat to our personal integrity. Freedom of thought is a hallmark of the “American idea”. We think of it as being fundamental to a free society. However, the freedom and integrity with which we live our lives depends on accurate information. And, the unconscious assumptions we make about other people can be especially problematic.
In a complex world, unconscious assumptions can have a lot more to do with freedom and integrity than we might think. Our ability to engage effectively and safely with real people in the real world, both friend and foe, depends on accuracy.
Our assumptions are uninvestigated beliefs that may or may not be true. My suggestion here is that unexamined assumptions can limit our knowledge of the reality we are dealing with, and thus the effectiveness of our actions.
Inaccurate assumptions interfere with the free flow of information. Truthfulness becomes immaterial, and personal autonomy unachievable. And so I ask you: If we have not investigated and fully understood opposing points of view, how can we engage with and influence others? How can we challenge their assumptions?
Do we think we can live with integrity isolated in a vacuum?
I do not suggest that agreement is necessary. In fact. this will often be impossible. But untested assumptions are plainly dangerous. Questions of judgment often involve complex circumstances and depend on information coming from multiple sources.
Sometimes complexity can be aggravating. But, if we value the integrity of our beliefs and our role in the world, there is no alternative to pursuing accuracy. After all, our personal views reflect our self-confidence as decent and intelligent people.
Problems often catch us by surprise as a consequence of assumptions we did not realize we were making. This can happen in the workplace or the home, and with careless inattention to relationships. We have long accepted the assumption, for example, that rational governance is possible if we simply trust the wisdom of experts, or that nature must submit to human control.
Today we face a multitude of interrelated crises that call many of our assumptions into question. Social and economic disarray, the absence of civility, and a stifling inability to engage in dialog, leave us enmeshed in frustration.
These are challenging circumstances. America needs us each to step forward. I don’t believe we have a choice. The lessons of civility, trustworthiness and cooperative problem-solving may have to be learned by force of necessity. Personal safety and survival might depend on them.
Teaming up with neighbors to meet shared needs will not be easy. We will need diversity to confront unexpected needs. This will require courage and initiative.
Understanding does not necessarily lead to agreement, but it lubricates and sustains working relationships. The road to trust is paved with experience, not promises. Dependability is lived and proved in relationships.
There will always be differences in our values. Human beings have never agreed on values.
Values are not casual ideas or choices; many are deeply rooted in our interests and needs. If we are to live together, certain essential values must be shared; others might challenge our patience, but need not threaten trust.
Having dependable neighbors comes with genuine understanding, but we should not abandon the values that give us our identity.
I believe we will find more agreement than we expect, especially in the most important aspects of our common humanity. But we cannot delay.
Each of us carries a personal perspective that will contribute to the character and wisdom of the whole—as long as we refrain from allowing ego or emotion to overwhelm the context in which we find ourselves.
You may watch for the next post on or about June 7.