It’s inevitable that as life rolls along we will form some opinions and develop some positions which then steer our thinking and our behavior. Not only is the formation of opinions and positions unavoidable, it can be very helpful. For example, once we’ve made up our minds, we can run any puzzling new situation through our opinion filter and more readily determine our appropriate response.
Most of us have come to conclusions and adopted positions that guide the way we vote, the way we manage our finances, the way we treat others, and even the way we expect God to work in the world. Having come to a clear conclusion about these matters offers the comfort that certainty brings. But, of course, the conclusions we reached could be wrong. Might there be a danger in having made up our minds so firmly and stubbornly that we shut out other perspectives that might challenge, or enlarge, or enlighten us?
Apparently that danger is real, according to Dr. Tali Sharot, a neuroscientist at University College London. In a recent interview ( “I’m Right, You’re Wrong,” Hidden Brain, NPR, March 13, 2017), Dr. Sharot described research conducted on how people formed opinions and how those opinions could be changed. When people had a set idea about a subject and were presented with confirming evidence, it strengthened their initial beliefs. But if the evidence they were presented with challenged their already existing conclusion, guess what the people in the experiments did. They ignored the challenging evidence and set about discrediting the evidence and its source.
Hearing about that research gave us pause. We like to suppose that we are highly rational people and that solid facts lie behind our opinions, our positions, and our beliefs. But perhaps we, too, are prone to closing ourselves off from challenging perspectives. We wouldn’t be alone. Even the Gospels present us with people who just could not entertain new perspectives and new ideas that disputed theirs.
For example, the Gospel of John tells a story about Jesus healing a man who had been blind from birth. Imagine the man’s wonderment at seeing for the first time a fiery sunset, a field of flowers bursting into bloom, or the face of a friend. You’d assume that everyone around him would be happy for this newly sighted man, but they aren’t. Instead of throwing a celebration party, they engage in argument after argument about the matter because it didn’t fit into their view of how God worked and how healing happened. His new sight proves to be more a source of controversy than of joy.
The story of the blind man who regained his sight seems to want to show us that blindness comes in more than one form. Physical blindness is most easily recognized. But blindness can also be emotional, intellectual and even spiritual.
How’s your vision? Are you confident enough in its strength to risk viewing something new, something challenging, something unexpected? If you’ve come to some sure and certain conclusions about matters of deepest significance, might it be worth taking another look? Maybe entertaining another perspective now and then will open our eyes.