Politics, Resumes and the Third-Person Effect

Before I get into this post, I want to say sorry to people who used to read this blog. I have disappeared from blogging for a while. I could say that it was due to working on school. But the truth is that, lately, it’s been plain-old laziness and a loss of focus on why I’ve even gone back to school in the first place. I aim to help people think, and I’ve lost sight of that. 

Have you ever watched a campaign commercial that smears your favorite candidate or praises one you dislike and thought something like this?:

“That’s a load of garbage. I know most of that isn’t true. I’m not falling for it. It just makes me mad that there are some people out there who will believe these lies and vote accordingly. I mean, I can see through this nonsense, but not everyone else can.”

Thoughts like those demonstrate the “third-person effect.” This error in thought occurs when you assume that most people are gullible, prejudicial or ignorant in ways that you are not. It often involves assuming the worst about a large group’s motives or intelligence. If you find yourself feeling like an “exception to the rule,” (whatever that rule might be), there is a good chance that you are making this mistake.

Political and social issues trigger third-person effects. And sometimes, if we would just really stop and analyze ourselves we would find that our thinking is absurd.

I’ve been guilty of third-person-effecting lately. At least, I hope I have been. Right or wrong, I’ve decided to be more self-aware and assume the best I can about people.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been applying for various non-religious editing and writing jobs around the Houston area. While my educational credentials are pretty good, the word “Baptist is prominent in my work history. I have been having this nagging feeling that somehow that hurts my credibility in the secular world and is why I am having little luck in the job hunt. After all, Evangelical Christians are not exactly portrayed as geniuses in mass media (and often by other sects of Christianity).

Now, of course, know that there are lots of hard-working, honest, intelligent people who come from a variety of religious (or not), ethnic and educational backgrounds; and wouldn’t pass someone up just because they had some religious organization I don’t agree with on his or her resumé. But that’s just me. Right? What about all of these potential employers? They might think I’m stupid without ever speaking to me just because I’m a Baptist.

I’m not saying prejudices of all sorts don’t exist. I know they do. However, what I am saying is that I should not assume these prejudices in others.

Can you imagine how different the political conversation in this country would be if we stopped assuming that the Left/Right, Democrats/Republicans wanted to oppress us/take our money/rights/religious freedom/guns/sexual freedom/make us a theocracy/force us to violate our religious beliefs/etc.? I’m sure there are plenty of people who do actually want to do some of these things, but I highly doubt they are nearly as numerous as purported by either side. Usually, the motives and desires of people are misunderstood and then demonized in a third-person effect sort of way.

A prime example of this is the labeling of pretty much any person/group of people who believe that marriage has a definition that has to do with male and femaleness or disagrees with the nature of reality as it is described by the LGBT community as “hateful.” It doesn’t seem to matter how kindly one expresses disagreement, they are still hateful/bigoted etc.

Hateful? Really? As I understand it, hatred is wishing the worst for someone. It is wishing for their destruction — literally, that they would die.  Should I assume, then, that the LGBT community is hateful towards me? That they wish for my destruction? I disagree with them in their beliefs about a lot of things, so certainly they disagree with me and mine.

What I should do is give the benefit of the doubt to those with whom I disagree — more specifically, I should assume that they disagree out of true belief and are not motivated by a sinister plot to destroy me. After all, if sincerely don’t wish evil on people simply because they think I am wrong, shouldn’t I grant that ability to others?

“But Klint, there are some people who really do think/believe/desire terrible things about you/others/this group/that group.” To that I say, so what? Becoming cynical is not going to help nor change anything. And, besides, I am a Christian after all. I’ll let God worry about it. (At least I’ll try.)

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