"I don't see how anyone can possibly believe that." (One of two things is probably true.)

Musing for:

“I don’t see how anyone can possibly believe that.”

Over twenty years ago, I discovered a pattern that has shaped how I approach controversy.

It used to be that when I pondered my opposers’ perspectives, I thought, “I don’t see how anyone can possibly believe that.”

As I looked for clever ways to prove my own point of view on different topics, I kept coming across a recurring theme.

Whenever I couldn’t see “how anyone could possibly” hold some position, I repeatedly discovered that one of two things seemed to be true.

Either 1️⃣ They didn’t really hold the position I thought they did. Instead, I had been presented with a straw man that was nothing more than a caricature of their real position. What they really believed turned out to be far more believable than the way their point of view had been described.

or 2️⃣ They knew some key facts that I wasn’t aware of. Learning those new facts usually wasn’t enough to persuade me that their position was right. Still, I learned to understand how someone could hold to those beliefs while still being intellectually honest.

Learning this has helped me be far more gracious with people I disagree with.

If you find yourself ready to ridicule with confidence someone else’s take on a topic, ask yourself how certain you are that you really know what they believe. And find out what evidence they have, and you don’t, that makes their belief credible – even if it’s not enough to convince you.

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