Judge Thee by Actions, not Opinions
Society now places more emphasis on having the right opinions, rather than doing the right thing. The consequences of this is disturbing.
Walking home from school one day I saw an elderly Japanese man trying to cross the road. He was stuck in the middle of the street during heavy traffic, clearly in distress. People looked on, feeling sorry for the man until one student came up to comfort him and help cross the street. There was a sense of relief that came over us as the student slowed the traffic down so he could safely cross.
I thought, ‘wow, what a great guy’. He acted with compassion and empathy. I judged that young student that day by his actions. I didn’t know his opinion on abortion or what he thought about prison reform. I didn’t know his feelings on the local elections. I didn’t need to know any of it because that single act told me that he was a morally better person than anyone else who chose not to act that day - myself included.
Thanks for reading A Frayed Mind! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
In the age of social media, talk is cheap, still, it’s the highest form of currency that we trade. Online, people are called good or bad based not on the actions that they choose to commit, but the beliefs that they hold. If you agree with conservatives, you are a good, moral person in other conservative’s eyes. If you’re progressive, you must align with certain beliefs to be considered an ethical person within the progressive community. If you question any of the tenants of the community you belong to, you are viewed with suspicion. If you show some nuance and understanding to the ‘other side’, you’re called a traitor. If you dare espouse the wrong opinion, you’re instantly chastised.
A hyper-focus on the words that come out of people’s mouths means that we forget that physical actions and contributions are a far more meaningful display of one’s character.
Who would you prefer to be friends with: someone that disagrees with you on free speech, or someone who is particularly cruel to customer service workers?
I have friends from all over the political spectrum. I disagree with each of them on at least one major thing. This is nothing but guaranteed within a mature friend group. Yet I maintain my friendships not because of our differences, but because of our similarities and how we treat one another. Conversely, I’ve cut friendships with people because they’ve been assholes, despite being in political agreement.
How I view and treat others, are totally dependent on who they are as a person - which is not defined by their opinions. On the other hand, I’ve had people unfriend me due to a belief I’ve once held. It’s childish thinking. But I’d prefer not to be friends with such children anyway.
I will be friends with pretty much anyone regardless of their beliefs, so long as they act in a manner that I find appropriate.
Western society is extremely fragmented. We don’t need more of it.
Many times you will hear accusations that the ‘other side’ is evil, they don’t care about kids, that’s it’s all a nasty power grab, etc. This division stems from a lack of understanding. It’s much easier to condemn everyone that disagrees with you than it is to see where your differences lie. These viciously vindictive people see nothing but online opinions, and cast their judgements entirely on that. They don’t know the people whom they’re criticising, they don’t know how much love they have for their families or the work they do in their community. All they know is that they have the wrong opinion on Covid, and will inaptly categorise them as uniquely evil.
It is not the difference in morals that divide our opinions on how Covid should be handled. Everyone has different starting assumptions and experiences that they use to come to conclusions on what they think will work. One ‘side’ is not out there to make the world a worse place, despite what Reddit believes.
We need to be a cohesive society where we are accepting of people’s opinions, regardless of whether or not we agree. I am not a bad person because of the beliefs that I hold, and neither are you. You are not the product of a single held belief.
Or are you?
What if someone has legitimately evil opinions? I’ll answer that one shortly.
But first, what do you get when you have a highly divided society that values words more than actions?
Like the extremists of the past, today’s are no different. They see themselves sitting above everyone on their sanctimonious thrones, imbued with knowledge of how the future should turn out and the best way to get there. There’s nothing wrong with being sure of oneself. The problem comes when actions are downplayed and opinions are held in high regard. Violence becomes justified.
It doesn’t matter what actions an individual may partake in, what matters to these people are the specific beliefs that are held. The violence is not condemned because the opinions are ‘correct’. It’s sort of an ends justify the means ordeal.
We see this a lot in recent America where people are protesting and counter-protesting. They get up in each others faces, clasp their signs and scream with spit flying out their mouths. They’re determined to shout down the other side - as if that would convince them. You can see the hatred that they hold in their faces. They’re on the verge of attacking.
Suddenly, someone gets pushed. Maybe it was an accident, maybe it was on purpose - it doesn’t matter because the whole crowd immediately erupts, picket signs are turned into weapons, fists are flying and people are getting hurt. A man has to be dragged away because they were hit by a projectile. Blood drips down his face.
When you believe you’re on the side of the angles, everything is permissible.
This is what happens when societies care more about what you say than what you do. Violent individuals can get away with no condemnation from those that agree with them because the attackers’ opinions are deemed ‘acceptable’ to their respective tribe.
In whatever crowd you find yourself in there will be ways for you to increase your social standing. How? Merely repeat the common talking points that the majority will find appealing. You can maintain that the US 2020 election was stolen, and you’ll be loved in some circles, or you can shout that the patriarchy is the core of all our problems and you’ll be loved in another. But saying either of these things does not make you a good person. In fact, it doesn’t even make you insightful, mostly because you’re just repeating things that others have already said. You’re not a thinker, you’re a fraudulent opinion stealer who uses other people’s ideas to seek social standing.
This can turn into a type of bullying masquerading as ‘holding people accountable’. If one successfully incites the crowd to pile on someone who is perceived to have committed a grave sin, then they gain social standing. They become a temporary hero in that community and are rewarded with clicks, likes and follows.
If nothing comes from dragging the accused through the mud, then the they can lay in wait until another case comes along. Maybe next time they will be more successful (feel free to reread this in a David Attenborough voice).
Talk is cheap, but is used to create dividends.
It’s much easier to put out a viral tweet for non-thinking individuals than it is to walk that elderly man across the street. It’s more socially profitable to call someone a sexist for a joke in an elevator than it is to engage in debate.
Throwing out accusations online has become a low risk, high reward activity.
The more insidious issue that I have with judging people more for their opinions than for their actions is that it leaves little room for changing one’s mind. My mind has changed on essentially every issue that I can think of. I went from being pro-choice, to pro-life, to a nuanced version of pro-choice. I went from being a Christian to an Atheist to a Simulation believer. For essentially every single opinion I’ve held, it is now different. This is a sign that people grow and change with new information and as they experience life.
Hilary Clinton was against same sex marriage up until 2012. This is still used against her today. We shouldn’t care what her opinion was 10 years ago, we should care about what her opinion is now. People are allowed to be wrong. People are allowed to change their mind and we need the path for doing so to be open and with as little resistance as possible. Changing your mind on a deeply held belief is the only way forward to grow as a person and as a society.
Who cares what someone believed in at some point in the past? What do they believe in now?
The insane idea that I should be judged for an opinion I once held, one that I may no longer believe in, is an indication that society no longer values forgiveness.
We don’t choose our beliefs
None of them. There is no choice when it comes to what you believe.
Let’s take 1 + 1 = 2. If you can indeed choose your beliefs, ask yourself, is it possible for you to sincerely change the belief that 1 + 1 = 2? You can’t. It’s not that you chose to believe it, but you have been convinced to believe it. There’s a difference.
Imagine that I could show you a complex equation proving that 1 + 1 actually equals 3. If you follow the logic, understood it fully and I successfully changed your mind, you didn’t choose to change your belief. You were shown the evidence, and now you believe it equals 3. There is no room for choice here.
Conversely, if you remain unconvinced you didn’t choose to feel this way either. It just sort of… happened.
Free will never enters the equation when it comes to what you believe, either you are convinced by the reasoning or you are not - you hold no responsibility for either conclusion. You are a helpless victim to the evidence and logic provided.
I try my best not to judge people by the opinions that they hold, and only on the actions that they perform. I’d like to say that I never judge people for what they believe - but I know that this is a lie. We’re human, and this is a human thing to do.
However, I deem actions as far more important than the beliefs that inspire them. Actions are the things that have an actual impact in the world. Not thoughts. Beliefs can be changed through a matter of reasoning and arguments. When I come across someone whom I believe is mistaken I will try to convince them otherwise. But I do my best not to call them evil, because I know that what they believe is totally out of their control. I take a page out of Christianity: hate the belief, not the believer.
I suppose the point of all of this is that someone’s thoughts by themselves are harmless. It’s the actions that they take which lead to real world consequences. Our focus should instead return to the deeds that they carry out, not on the words that come out of their mouths.
Thanks for reading A Frayed Mind! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.