Changing Your Beliefs: An Uncomfortable Experience

When was the last time you questioned one of your deeply held beliefs? I know that it has been a while for me.  This occurred to me as I was reading a new book (a birthday present from my friend, the Restauranteur), called Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, by Chris Hedges.

Hedges puts together a pretty scathing indictment of higher education, asserting that higher education has become nothing more than a vocational training system designed to reinforce the existence of the capitalist elite. While I’m not sure that Hedges’ rant is totally on point, he raises enough questions about our education system that  line up with my own experience, that I found the process of reading his book somewhat uncomfortable, because it challenges a lot of my existing beliefs.

And maybe that is why most of us don’t question our beliefs very often. It is an uncomfortable experience which most of us prefer to avoid. We experience confirmation bias; that is, we look for evidence that supports our opinions and ignore evidence that contradicts our beliefs. Some research suggests that we won’t change our beliefs when faced with evidence that disproves them. In fact, the disproving evidence is likely to make us hold more tightly to those incorrect beliefs. This could explain the persistence of the belief in the US that a market based health care system is most efficient, even though the US system is estimated to cost 15.3% of GDP while the Canadian system costs 9.8% of GDP while having the same basic outcomes and universal coverage.

Questioning one’s own beliefs is necessary to avoid potential disaster. It’s necessary to be effective in the world. The ability to change a belief based on evidence is a strength, not a weakness.  And it’s something I do far too little of.


Categories: Books, Hard Work, Ideas

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