The most important thing I learned in Soc class

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W.I. Thomas: “If people believe something to be true, it is true in its consequences.”

In other words, we act on our beliefs as if they were facts, right?

I think about this all the time because it helps me understand why other people hold as firmly to their beliefs as I hold to mine. It also reminds me how fallible my own “facts” might be.

I wish other people would appreciate this maxim as well — it’d save me a whole lot of useless arguments.

Now I’m an idealist, which means I’m more prone to this than other people. Like republicans — theoretically I understand how they could think the way they do but when it comes right down to it, I don’t get it. I feel the same way about lots of other stuff like, for example, showtunes. I say that I understand how you could not like musical theater but secretly I’m thinking that you just haven’t heard the right score. And what’s worse, if you tell me you don’t like musical theater because it’s so stagy and silly, I will nod like I’m totally understanding your point of view but secretly I will be plotting to send you a mix CD to convince you that you’re wrong. (I’d be planning to put Finishing the Hat and pretty much all of South Pacific — the original Mary Martin version — on it. Oh and some Jason Robert Brown. And Gershwin, of course. And have you ever heard William Finn’s Sailing? Because if you haven’t, I’d be thinking, you’re just talking out of ignorance.)

And see, that’s a problem. Because for all I know (and I should ask before I assault you with mp3 CDs) you grew up listening to showtunes because your parents are huge fans and as a matter of fact you haven’t talked to them for years because your anti-showtune stance is such a betrayal that whenever you get together all you do is fight and your mom says, “Anyone who doesn’t love Bernadette Peters’s rendition of Being Alive is no child of mine!” Maybe my hammering to enlighten you is more hammer, less light, you know?

I’m not going to let go of my idea that showtunes are way awesome and I don’t have to but I do need to operate with the understanding that people can listen to the exact same songs I do and come out of it with a different opinion. Because their true beliefs are just as true as mine are — even if they aren’t. And maybe I ought to be a little more respectful when someone says, “Yeah, I don’t like musicals. That’s just me.”

Now when it comes to stuff that’s just plain wrong — like I can believe 2 + 2 = 5 and I can act like it’s true all I want but I’m still gonna be wrong about it — there’s some point to having an argument with me but our discussion will be more effective if you come to it understanding how staunchly I’m standing in my convictions.

It gets so much stickier when people start arguing about showtunes with the same absolutes they’d bring to an argument about math, you know? When we don’t understand that some things — like politics and religion — feel grounded in fact when actually they’re grounded in faith. So we can start quoting studies and scripture but if the other person doesn’t buy into the premise of that study or the veracity of that scripture, it ends up being — you guessed it — more hammer less light.

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