Saturday, October 23, 2010

Be Quiet

In my post of August 19, 2010 entitled “True Believers” I wrote about serial changers of belief who with each change insist loudly that their newly-born-again self has found the one real truth. And, of course, they are proclaiming this to us because they want us to recognize their sincerity and, most of all, to join them in their new belief.

A recent article at Miller-Mccune ( reports on findings by researchers David Gal and Derek Rucker. While they didn’t set out to study those I call “serial believers,” their conclusions are perhaps even more relevant to those multiple “born-againers.” In a paper entitled “When in Doubt, Shout!” they conclude that “advocacy on behalf of one’s beliefs helps banish any uncomfortable lack of certainty’”; those participants in the study who were most in doubt “expressed a greater likelihood to attempt to persuade other people of their beliefs.” As the Miller-Mccune article puts it:

“Although it is natural to assume that a persistent and enthusiastic advocate of a belief is brimming with confidence,” [Gal and Rucker] write in the journal Psychological Science, “the advocacy might in fact signal that the individual is boiling over with doubt.”

The Miller-Mccune article notes that “In a logic-driven world, [one would think] the shattering of long-held assumptions . . . would lead to a thoughtful period of reflection and re-evaluation.” However, just the opposite happens: “In our world, it leads one to actively advocate one’s pre-existing beliefs all the more passionately.”

While it might seem that the serial “True Believers” might be the exceptions that prove the rule, in fact, by their strong advocacy of their latest belief they demonstrate that their desire to have others join them is a need for confirmation of the validity of their new (and shaky) faith.

How unlike Hamlet and Nora Helmer (discussed in another of my blog posts, “The Act of Living,” September 14, 2010), who, having had their “long-held assumptions” shattered, face the new existential void in their lives without either blanking out the reality in front of them and retreating deeper into their shaky previous beliefs or turning to a new pre-packaged belief system and, proclaiming their sincerity in their new doubtful faith, attempt to induce others to join them.


I recall an article I read many years ago in the N
ew York Times Magazine, which told of a paper left behind by an African diplomat after having given a speech to the United Nations General Assembly. At one place in the margin of this paper was written: “Weak Point. Raise Voice.”

As I concluded in the “True Believers” post, I ask those shouters of their beliefs:

"Why should I believe what you believe today, which you didn't believe yesterday--and will not believe tomorrow?"

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