Have you ever read or heard something and simply dismissed it as “I don’t agree with that,” without reading any further? Okay. Don’t be afraid to admit it. I have, too. We don’t like disagreement, but disagreement can be healthy.
How do we decide what to believe and what not to believe? A first step is to recognize the difference between facts and opinions. We become wiser when we better understand ideas we disagree with, because we can understand why we disagree. We have to sort out facts and opinions if we want to make intelligent decisions— or we can do what a lot of people do and rely on our emotions. Our beliefs often are centered on who and what we want to believe.
On November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a limousine in a motorcade. That is an undeniable fact, a part of 20th Century history. But if I add a sentence saying he was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, a lone assassin, I am actually stating an opinion. If I say that was the finding of the Warren Commission Report on the assassination I am stating a fact. I don’t have to agree with that conclusion, but I can agree that it was the conclusion of the commission.
In critical thinking we separate what we know from what we believe or what we think. If I read an essay telling me all the reasons Oswald could not have murdered JFK or how he could not have acted alone, I have to decide whether or not to believe that. I can decide for myself what to believe, but what I believe is not necessarily fact.
When I began voting I voted according to my beliefs, but early on I learned to broaden and challenge my views by listening to and reading people who disagreed with me.
At times views contrary to mine have made me angry, but sometimes they have made me stop and think: Why do I believe as I do? Could I be wrong? Many times I have become stronger in my beliefs and have better understood them and where they came from.
Agree or disagree, someone felt it needed to be said. We can choose to believe or disbelieve according to what we hear or read.
WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.