by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

Why do we believe the worst?

Why are we so quick to believe the worst? At no time does this seem more evident than during an election season. Yes, I think our leaders often bear the brunt of our worst beliefs, fears and opinions. I wonder if we usually believe the best about our loved ones not necessarily because it’s true but because we want the best to be true. So what of our so-called enemies or anyone we perceive as not on our side of an opinion or preferred political party? Perhaps we tend to believe the worst about them because we want the worst to be true.

Now, don’t get defensive on me here. I’m not talking about anyone in particular. In fact, these are questions I’ve asked myself again and again. I don’t like to believe without question the old saying, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Some say this saying indicates that rumors are usually based on truth. I certainly concur that there is always a truth to be learned and understood, but it could be that the rumor turns out not to be that truth.

I guess some might call me a skeptic. If I am, then it’s because I want to believe the best instead of the worst.

And I hope my skepticism will help me make more rational judgments.

When it comes to politics, for example, I am trying to avoid selective examination of any evidence or facts. I am scrutinizing my choice of which news programs I watch and listen to and which magazine or newspaper articles I read. I admit that sometimes what I want to be true and what is true is not always the same.

I believe that I can reach a rational conclusion by being willing to accept a position that is based on as much available information as possible. So, I’m trying not to just read and listen to what I think will support what I would like to be true, but rather, I’m trying to read and hear all sides to issues and all viewpoints about all candidates.

It is, of course, difficult to root out cynicism and biases. But, at least I’m trying! I’m finding there are some useful practices that help me avoid the cynicism trap. First, I’ve got my eye out for arrogance. I want to keep this in check. So anytime I am super certain I am right — I stop and ask myself, “What if I’m wrong?” This is hopefully giving me the humility I need to change my mind or change my course when needed.

I am endeavoring to stay curious and assumption-free. I doubt what I first read or hear so I can stay open to allow new facts to emerge and be seen. But I’m not letting doubt become mistrust or paranoia. I’m optimistic and have good expectations. Yet, I want to be willing to be proven wrong, especially when I’m tempted to believe the worst before the best.

I’m often reminded of the time when John, one of Jesus’ disciples, was upset by someone doing healing works in Jesus’ name. The cause of John’s distress was that this individual was not among those following Jesus and listening to all of his teachings. In fact, John told Jesus that he and his fellow disciples told this individual to stop doing his healing works. But Jesus responded, “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:49-50)

What does this have to do with our election season, you might be thinking?

Clearly, the person who was doing healing works had heard Jesus’ teachings and probably witnessed his healing works, too. So, it wasn’t that he was so very different from the disciples who walked along with Jesus as he traveled the countryside. He, too, was evidently a believer and a doer of Jesus’ teachings. He hardly needed to be condemned for his good works and good motives.

I feel the same is true for those who want to serve this country in public office. They are all Americans. They are “for us!” I am trying to remember this important point even when I may disagree with someone’s path or the method he or she presents. And I applaud the candidates’ desire to serve this country to the best of their ability.

I can agree to disagree if need be, remembering that it could be that I myself don’t know the best resolution to a situation. And if the candidate I vote for come November doesn’t win, I can co-elbow with my next President, whoever he or she may be, and still have great expectations for the good of my country. I’m determined to believe the best about my new President before I believe the worst! And I’ll expect the best from my new President, too!