Loyalty trumps facts, except…
I heard a fascinating piece on NPR this morning about people’s predilection for overlooking facts in political discourse when it interferes with party loyalty. For example, more Republicans right now believe that President Obama has a lot of power in influencing gas prices, and he just isn’t doing it, while Democrats believe he doesn’t have much power at all. But in 2004, more Democrats believed that George W. Bush had more power that he wasn’t exercising and Republicans defended him by saying he didn’t have much power at all.
The actual facts (if there is such a term these days) show that Presidents don’t really have a lot of ability to influence gas prices short of draconian kinds of policies. But the point of this is that loyalty trumps facts regardless of your political persuasion. (Kind of a caution to the sometimes smug assumption of liberalism that the left is more likely to attend to facts.)
The problem is the kind of cognitive dissonance that occurs when we want to believe the best of those we support, and when facts get in the way of that, we usually opt for support. Cognitive dissonance is a painful experience, and overcoming the dissonance can require either denial or great strength of ego to stand firm in the face of confusing data.
And, it turns out, that people who receive an ego boost (even of the smallest form like repeating positive mantras) are more willing to examine competing ideas. Encouraging people to think of times in their lives when they did something positive for someone helps strengthen their ability to stand up to the threat of unwelcome information.
Since I preach the concept of self-differentiation at every opportunity, I have to admit I thrilled to hear this. But it also made me think more deeply about what we can do to help strengthen everyone to the degree that we can enter into community dialogue with less fear and apprehension.
Surely there is an important role in all this for religious community. After all, we ought to be about helping people affirm their inherent worth and dignity and to enable positive experiences of helping one another and others in the world. How often, though, do we sit back and assume others are less inclined to view the truth, rather than helping to create the conditions for complex understanding to exist? What can be our strategies to help support people in having the most meaningful interchanges?