When Do We Say, “We Need to Change Who We Are”?

I’ve noticed this pattern in the news. A murder/fire/something bad happens in a normally quiet neighborhood. The news people interview the neighbors, and each one of them says, “This isn’t who we are. This doesn’t happen here.”

Except, it did. We literally just saw that occurrence on the news.

I see this pattern all the time in the local news. We’ve seen this pattern over the past year in the US especially in the protests and politics.

Here, in the US, we have many widely varying opinions and beliefs. When we say, “This isn’t who we are,” we deny that wide range of opinions and beliefs. Why?

Admitting the truth feels uncomfortable to many of us. We feel vulnerable, shame, and maybe guilt. We don’t want to be “those” people.

Also, we have to admit that we share a town/state/country with people who don’t:

  • Share our opinions or beliefs
  • Act on their values differently than we prefer
  • Love us. In fact, some of these people might hate us. My opinion: It doesn’t matter who you or what you stand for, someone hates you.

The news proves to anyone that yes, this is exactly who we are.

“This isn’t who we are” is an un-discussable statement. If we continue to deny that this is who we are, we don’t have to ask deeper questions and learn more about each other.

We must ask the un-discussable questions (also see Discuss the Un-Discussable) so we can see our reality. Otherwise, our denial and inability to ask those questions hold immense power over us. What if instead, we said, “This is who we are. Do we want to change?” Or, “We need to change.”

Where do we start? Personal stories—especially stories that illuminate our values and beliefs—might help.

Start with Stories

Logic alone doesn’t change anyone’s mind. Besides, many of us succumb to many fallacies. (See the List of Fallacies.) (Which fallacy do I use most often? Faulty generalization. I assert conclusions I want based on weak data. That’s why I’ve been careful in my most recent books to explain that this is my experience. I know I have this problem so I try to prevent it.)

When we start with stories, we offer our experience to the other person. When we use our own stories, we don’t have to claim to be the owners of the One Truth or the One Right Way or anything else that excludes other people’s experiences.

In my experience, the more we don’t listen to other people’s experiences, the less we can understand their opinions, values, or beliefs. We need to listen to each other.

That’s one of the reasons I hate the idea of “our side” or “the other side.” (I’ve been trying to discuss why this language prevents people from listening to each other. I’ve had some luck but not enough.)

Once we hear stories, we might ask questions as in How Can We Discuss a Difference of Beliefs?

However, the first step is admitting that yes, this is exactly who we are. We might be students who cheat on exams. Or adults who commit crimes against our neighbors. Or adults who want to take choices away from others—or to prevent people from making immoral choices. See how there’s another perspective on even how we frame the idea?

Instead of denying that wide range of beliefs, what if we embraced our philosophical diversity and asked this question: Where do we go from here?

That might one step to admitting that yes, this is who we are. We then can create choices about what to do next.

We need courage and adaptability to create space for those difficult conversations. This might be the most challenging discussion we ever have.

The question this week is: When do we say, “We need to change who we are”?

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