Like-Minded vs Like-Hearted

how_to_thinkIf you want to find the truth, then the most dangerous place for you to be is in a group that already agrees with you.

This is particularly true if membership in that group is based on shared thinking, such as the sort of church where you must all recite the same creed, the faculty of a school where there are written or unwritten expectations for what you will teach or publish, or a political party whose “platform” you must support.

The reason is obvious, isn’t it? As Alan Jacobs says in his book, How to Think,

…the pressures imposed on us by Inner Rings [of people who control such groups] make genuine thinking almost impossible by making belonging contingent on conformity.

He continues with the solution:

The only real remedy for the dangers of false belonging is the true belonging to, true membership in, a fellowship of people who are not so much like-minded as like-hearted.

He quotes C.S. Lewis to explain:

How true membership in a body differs from inclusion in a collective may be seen in the structure of a family. The grandfather, the parents, the grown-up son, the child, the dog, and the cat are true members (in the organic sense), precisely because they are not members of a homogeneous class. They are not interchangeable. Each person is almost a species in himself…If you subtract any one member, you have not simply reduced the family in number; you have inflicted an injury on its structure.

Not everyone’s family meets this ideal. In some, if you don’t conform (e.g., to conventional gender roles), you are disrespected or even disowned. But ideally, says Jacobs, nobody asks anyone else to be fundamentally different. Maybe the one who is always getting in trouble is encouraged to show some self-restraint, but only within the parameters of who he is.

Being like-hearted also means committing to the means more than to the ends. As an individual, you might be so committed to your beliefs (your ends) that you would die for them, but as a member of the group, you agree on means that everyone could sign up for, such as being open-minded and truly listening to each other.

A common method to find the truth might be one of those means. That could help a great deal, but I don’t think it’s strictly necessary. In fact, sometimes people who approach the truth differently can keep us from being too in love with our One True Method of Finding Truth. A Christian recently told me of a time when she was in a subway station at night. There were clusters of gang members loitering about, and she would have to pass them to board the train. She was petrified. Then, a 7-foot tall man in priests’ garb appeared and shepherded her through the bad guys and onto the train.  She turned to thank him, and he had vanished. She concluded he must have been an angel. Her story was outside of my epistemological comfort zone, but it was also compelling. More to the point, she did not expect me to convert on the basis of her story, and I was able to absorb and appreciate her story without subjecting her to a barrage of skeptical questions.

I’d like to hear from you. Are you part of a group of like-hearted people who appreciate who you are and don’t expect you to conform to their rules? Do you wish you were?

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