How Beliefs Play in Politics

Rest assured this post will not be about espousing the beliefs of one particular party over the other. What I do want to explain is how well-intentioned people can come up with widely different meanings from the exact same event.

Beliefs themselves are generalizations from experience or experiences. Once a belief is in place, it is sustained by two processes: distortion and deletion. Distortion means that when an event or occurrence is different from the pre-held belief, we go through a process of making a different meaning or coming up with an explanation that fits our pre-existing belief. Deletion happens when something contrary to our beliefs is ignored—it’s as though it never happened. Beliefs rarely are changed by direct confrontation; the opposite is true, for they tend to become more entrenched.

One concrete way we allow deletion to continue is by pre-selecting the kind of information we expose ourselves to. I don’t think it would come as a surprise to anyone that news channels often have a recognized bias. That is equally true with radio outlets, publications, websites, etc. It is unlikely that you will change beliefs if your reading or listening preferences are not challenged.

This plays out in another way also. Political speak on both sides uses words and terms in imprecise ways. For example, you will often hear a politician say, “the American people want ______ (fill in the blank)” as though there is an entity called “American people” that thinks in a unique way. This is particularly interesting when polls often suggest a near-even split about issues.

Words like “always” or “never” go unchallenged, and then there’s the all-time favorite: “everyone knows.” What’s interesting about these patterns is that listeners tend to fill in their own meanings rather than asking for specificity. An example of asking for specificity would be to inquire, “Who specifically knows?”

Another example that can be heard from spokesman on both sides is a variation of “We’re going to take back the country from…” One response to that might be “Take it back from whom, specifically?” or “Take it back how, exactly?” In order for the initial statement to make sense, you have to understand what is presupposed. Somehow the country was “given away” or “taken,” so knowing how specifically one thinks of that helps to create more understanding.

Will reading this cause one to shift beliefs? Unlikely. What it may do is encourage critical thinking. One of the downsides of learning about beliefs is that listening to political speeches becomes a very different experience. I often assign my students the task of listening to debates or political channels so they can catalog and then write appropriate challenges to what they hear. It matters not what channel you choose because there will be plenty of examples to learn from.

So what do you think (specifically)? I welcome your comments below.

P.S. Do you want to share this post? Please do. Just be sure that it remains intact and includes the following bio.

About Terry: Terry Hickey, M.S., is a Certified NLP Professional Coach, Business Trainer and Consultant, a Certified Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the co-owner of NLP Advantage Group. Originator of the Belief Breakthrough Method™, Terry specializes in teaching coaches and entrepreneurs how to rapidly resolve limiting beliefs about wealth and success. His tips and strategies can help you launch yourself into the future you want… NOW. http://terryhickey.com/


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