Last week, a couple of friends asked me how I manage to remain fairly objective with my observations of current events and I have been thinking about it ever since. While some of what makes me objective is simply part of my personality (I’m not very emotional and have always been on the rational side), some has been learned and I want to share those things.
Before I begin, I want to be clear that I have not always been this objective and able to see both sides of an issue. It has taken work, practice, and humility. It has taken years, but I am so grateful for the journey. I still fail at this, but I’m quick to recognize that and get back to objectivity.
As I have looked back at what shaped me most in this way, I found three main things: Deductive reasoning/critical thinking skills, the Golden Rule, and Grace.
Deductive Reasoning and Critical Thinking Skills
I can trace this back to the Gifted and Talented Education (G.A.T.E.) Program that I joined in third grade. We didn’t know what we were learning as we did cryptograms, logic puzzles, etc. but it’s evident now that we were being taught how to think. How to question. How to use facts to discover the truth. How to assess information and accurately determine the solution. This is now so ingrained in me that I don’t even realize I’m doing it. (Thank you, Mrs. Clapp! There are likely other teachers that taught us these things, too, but her wisdom and teaching sticks out most to me.)
My twenty years of experience in politics has also helped with this as I learned early on to be skeptical of everything until investigation. You can’t trust everything you hear or read (but that doesn’t mean that no source is trustworthy – that is important to note. It simply means that spin and bias are real and it takes effort to determine facts). Conspiracy theories thrive because they sound like they could be true, and they often (but not always) contain a tiny bit of fact. However, it often requires a large amount of faith to fully accept their premise. They also are sometimes more comfortable than the truth, so people would rather accept these false theories (and be part of a “movement”) instead of accepting what is really happening.
If it sounds suspicious (for example, doesn’t cite sources), I look into it. When I read a new piece of information, I immediately think through and explore the topic (using varied sources) to determine whether or not it is true. All of this leads me to take time to learn about everything I see to determine what is factual and what is not. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. But I don’t take “facts” – especially on social media – at face value, ever. I rely on experts, on credible (and proven) sources.
Basically, I ask three things:
- Who is saying this? What is their bias?
- Why are they saying this? What are they trying to get me to think/believe? What are they hiding?
- Is it factual? What do other sources say?
I study and know the facts (especially regarding the Constitution these days) and don’t let passionate speeches sway me from what is truth. Just because someone you trust says something doesn’t mean you can trust everything they say. This especially applies to statistics and numbers which are often used to sway people. This goes without saying, but not all of the memes you see are true. Look up the statistics from reliable sources (not some random guy on YouTube) before you form an opinion, and especially before you share something.
We see biblical precedent for this in Acts 17:11: And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. If they questioned what Paul himself said, so we should also have a healthy skepticism of what we read (but not in a conspiracy theory way).
The same things need to happen with anything said about our Constitution. Example: claims that the Biden administration is going to amend major sections of the Constitution; learn what it actually takes to do this and you will quickly realize this claim is false/impossible (2/3 of both chambers of Congress, AND 2/3 of all states).
@SharonSaysSo on Instagram often says that facts don’t require your approval, and I love that. Facts are facts. It doesn’t matter if they fit your narrative or not.
This election is a perfect example of my objectivity because I didn’t support either candidate. That allowed me to be in the middle, looking critically at both sides. It allowed me to filter what I heard and read and not just believe everything I heard. I don’t just listen to sources that will tell me what I want to hear – that’s probably the most important part of all of this. Confirmation bias is dangerous.
I’m also a student of American History (and Political Science) so I view everything in context. Context is key. I also understand that dramatic and outlandish claims are usually untrue. I am able to look back at what has happened throughout our history (there’s nothing new under the sun) and see that what people are claiming is simply not going to happen (i.e. socialism in the U.S. – that claim has been made by Republicans since the late 1800s and has never, and will never, come to fruition).
My ability to be objective is also why/how I approach any new administration with hope and optimism: we cannot/should not judge things before they happen. It’s our country, too, and we should assume that things can and will go well rather than assuming the worst. Why go on a rabbit trail of what if or what could be? Wait to see what actually happens. At the same time, why not take some time to actually learn their platform from THEM instead of from their opponent who will spin everything to sound negative?
I also love the concept of Occam’s Razor – the simplest explanation is most often the truth.
Being objective and willing to accept facts isn’t the popular way to be, but I can assure you that it’s the least stressful and the best way to approach life.
Treating others like I want to be treated (The Golden Rule)
I thought through what matters most to me in discussions and in life and these are the ways I approach discussions/events/politics before I form an opinion:
- I want to be understood so I listen to understand. Understanding doesn’t mean agreement. It means respecting the other viewpoint and stepping into their shoes. Perspectives are valid whether you agree with their conclusions or not. You cannot deny someone’s life experiences that have shaped their beliefs. Why not listen? What does it cost you?
- I want my ideas to be considered and respected so I consider and respect the other side. And sometimes I find that they are right. Sometimes I am the one who needs to adjust my thinking. And that’s okay!
- I want others to be humble and willing to admit that maybe I’m right – and therefore I approach new information with the possibility that I am wrong because knowing what is true is most important to me, not being right. I’d rather admit that I was wrong than continue believing something that is wrong. I know I’m in the minority with this, but can you imagine how awesome it would be if we all approached things like this?
- I want others to assume good in me so I assume good in others. I try to not assume things, in general. I do not like when assumptions are made about me or what I believe, so I try to not make assumptions about other people.
- I want my friends and family to accept and respect me as I am, so I accept and respect them for who they are. This doesn’t mean that I agree with them on everything, but I try my best to put differences aside because I love them.
These (and more) are why I’m able to calmly discuss most topics with friends on the other side (most of the time). I listen to learn, not to argue.
Grace. Grace. Grace.
I am so keenly aware of my own failures and my imperfections (Enneagram 1, here). It’s something with which I struggle daily. My “inner critic” is on overdrive, questioning and criticizing everything I do. I am very aware that I am NOT perfect. In fact, most days I struggle to find ways I was successful.
Perfectionism is my curse in life and while it can certainly be a negative thing, it also fuels my need to know what is true and make sure that I’m correct about things. Because I am so aware of my own flaws, I am more likely to assume the best of others’ words, actions, and intentions until proven otherwise because I know how often I make mistakes or am misunderstood. This goes for tone, especially. I read text as if they are smiling and being kind. I try to never assume that they are out to get me, that their intentions are to harm me, etc. and I hope others will do the same for me. I overuse emoji to ensure that my mood is properly detected in texts/online. I offer grace whenever possible because I make mistakes, not because I’m perfect.
I am more prone to offer grace because I’m desperately aware of how much I need it myself.
No one is perfect, so why do we expect perfection? Why is our tendency to tear people apart when they make a mistake or believe differently? If we showed the grace we ourselves receive from Jesus, what a beautiful place this would be.
I’ve come to realize that, as humans, we all want the same outcomes. We simply have different approaches.
The bottom line is this: we must be aware of our own bias, our own tendencies, and our own arrogance when we interact with those who think differently. What does it hurt to consider both sides and then decide what is right or true? What does it hurt to offer grace, understanding, and humility? Can you imagine what our country would look like if we took the time to do these things?
Let’s start today. Let’s work toward objectivity, grace, and kindness. After all, we’re all in this together.