pádraig ó tuama on understanding: "most of the time" (part 1)

“most people make decisions that seem reasonable to them most of the time.”

this idea, simple as it is, is monumentally important. i heard it in pádraig ó tuama’s on being interview. krista verbalized it first, but i’m not sure if she was quoting him or making the statement herself. either way, it feels important to think through. and now that i’m writing, i seeing that i probably have three posts (today’s and two more) about pádraig’s thoughts about understanding.

MS. TIPPETT: One thing you say out of all this experience you’ve had of being with people in charged situations having difficult conversations — and this is an important truth, and it’s really hard to take in — that “most people do what seems reasonable to them at the time most of the time.” I mean, just that, that the people who may be so offending us and may seem frightening to us are actually doing what seems reasonable to them. And it’s not always safe to decide to be curious about that, but I think there’s a big place where it is safe; it’s just going to be really uncomfortable.

MR. Ó TUAMA: Totally. And I recognize that sometimes people will need to extend their generosity to me, saying, “He thinks he’s doing what’s reasonable to him at the time.”

MS. TIPPETT: Right. It works in both directions.

MR. Ó TUAMA: It works in all those directions.

at face value, this statement makes a lot of sense to me. not only is it what i’ve experienced and seen (on all ends of the political spectrum), but it also just feels very human. i go back and forth when thinking about rational actor theory and things of the like, but i do observe that people often try really hard to make the best decision they can at the time given the information they have. of course, that doesn’t make “the best decision” the rational one. it’s just that more often not, when people look back, “bad decisions” felt like good decisions at the time.

now adding the political dimension to it, i wonder how our political system would shift if we believed this about our opposition? i feel like knowing and living this belief would help push our movements forward. it would allow us to build understanding across difference. and that, right now, seems more important than ever. of course there are some things (like dehumanization and oppression) that can’t ever be stood for, but there are other things that we can’t even allow to coexist in disagreement space because we’re often so all or nothing when competing with our opposition.

adding another layer to it, pádraig referenced something called the levels of sectarianism see pages numbered 38-39 for full description and the shortened version with no descriptions is below.

  1. we are different, we believe differently.
  2. we are right.
  3. we are right and you are wrong.
  4. you are a less adequate version of what we are.
  5. you are not what you say you are.
  6. we are in fact what you say you are.
  7. what you are doing is evil.
  8. you are so wrong that you forfeit ordinary rights.
  9. you are less than human.
  10. you are evil.
  11. you are demonic.

very interesting stuff.

tomorrow, part 2 - understanding; not agreeing

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