Billowing in the Wind

That’s what freedom feels like. Like standing above the roaring sea, looking out onto the crashing waves, and feeling your clothes and your hair billow in the wind. Or watching flower buds get blown off their branches.

The antithesis of freedom is captivity, and adjacent to captivity is persecution.

People who have any belief system are subject to persecution for it. And chances are if you have ever shared what you believe, you already have been persecuted for it at times. While the degree of harm persecution has caused in your life may vary, this is a universal human experience. Yet, at times, we feel alone when we are persecuted or at least we feel like the experience is unique to our sect.

When we are persecuted we often feel closed off from the rest of the world, we feel hurt, or angry, and we are very entrenched in our own experience. It is harder for us to have empathy when we are feeling persecuted because our focus is directed on our pain.

And then.

We are more likely to do it to someone else.

Unless we have tools to break the cycle.

Psychology, social psychology, and sociology give us great tools to break bad patterns, because when we look at (what is measurable in) people’s behavior and beliefs, we can see which practices and processes are healthy and which are not, and can better problem solve how to improve. For instance, in the field of social psychology, there is a phenomenon called group polarization.

Group polarization has been observed across cultures, religions, and pretty much anywhere where a group of people share a common belief. Group Polarization is the tendency for a group to become more extreme in their attitudes and actions because of their shared belief. We may even adopt a belief we never harbored before, simply because the majority of our group holds a particular belief.

When we have community with a group of people who believe in something we believe in, we will feel our beliefs solidify, maybe even to the point of blindness for other’s viewpoints. This not only makes it more difficult (or almost impossible) for groups with differing opinions to communicate, but at times makes our actions towards other groups more extreme. What’s more is that group polarization tends to vilify members of opposing groups rather than the ideas we are against.

And so a cycle begins to spin: One group is upset about another group’s beliefs, they express hostility, the other group unifies even more and responds to the hostility possibly to the point of violence, violence is met with violence…

So HOW do we break the cycle?

First Empathy. And Then Education.

If every group held to their beliefs, but also believed in empathy, then education, rather than opposition, then group members would encourage each other to try to understand why the opposing group has their beliefs. Since true empathy is getting involved in and having an extensive knowledge of another’s experience, they would know how to educate and communicate with the other group in a way that they could receive it.  If both parties held to a code of empathy and education, it would be easier for the groups to come to a resolution, agree to disagree, or find the truth. They wouldn’t polarize, the would centralize.

An additional solution is to have opposing groups come together and work towards a common goal. As observed in the “Robber’s Cave Experiment”, when opposing groups are given common goals where they have to work together to achieve them, they are able to put aside their differences (or pre existing notions) and unify as one group.
That’s why I started this project, if we are all working together to seek truth, while using empathy and education, we come ever closer to freedom.  

This is a part of a series of Keynote Articles that are revolved around ideas involving self-reflection and observation of our surroundings. These articles are a part of a project called “The Enthusiastic Agnostic”; the objective of this project is to explore important issues in spirituality and science and create awareness about them, you know, for fun.