I am not yet persuaded

People – especially empathic people – can sometimes forget that they, too, have a right to be persuaded.

They unconsciously assume the burden of persuasion, and feel that if they have not persuaded others to their belief, they do not have the right to their own beliefs, or at least not to public belief. They think that until they can argue a belief, they are obligated to keep it to themselves and suppress or conceal their doubts.

I think this can be harmful.

I consider it a liberal’s right, if not a duty, to express non-persuasion or even dissent when it exists, even when there is no strong argument to back up the belief. This practice is important for a number of reasons. If nobody disagrees or doubts, it creates an appearance of unanimity, suggesting self-evident truth. It can cause people to doubt their own doubts and worry that their questions are stupid or misguided. If this fear becomes widespread and habitual, and people stop raising questions and everyone becomes unaccustomed to unquestioning acceptance, a culture of conformity can develop where group-think is the rule and questioning is taboo.

Registering doubt at least keeps questions open. It also encourages other individuals with doubts to speak up. It keeps a society accustomed to hearing individual judgments and individual thinking that goes against the grain.

To a liberal these are concerns of the highest rank.

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My conviction is that we can believe or not believe something even without strong arguments.

Of course, if we want people to agree with us, we’ll eventually have to produce some persuasive reasons. Until then it will be necessary to stand alone.

But we are allowed to stand alone. Some of us admire people for standing alone – as long as they also respect our right to be unpersuaded.

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Advice to myself:

If I find myself in the midst of a group with whom I disagree, I will raise my hand and state: “I am not persuaded by what you are saying.”

I will openly admit it if I do not yet have counter-arguments. I will tell everyone I’m still thinking about it.

I will not be silent, and I definitely won’t be silenced.

3 thoughts on “I am not yet persuaded

  1. Love “ I am not persuaded by your comment“. It is both non-passive and non-aggressive, but a way to open meaningful dialogue. The other statement that can be used after listening is “ May I share my ideas with you? “. Thanks for these ideas!

    1. Good question.

      Before I comment on the connection between liberalism and empathy I should clarify what I mean by “liberal”. I use that word to designate people who condider individual liberty as a primary goal of politics. I know both progressives and conservatives who are liberals.

      I did not mean to link liberalism with empathy in this post. I was observing that empathic people (for instance, my wife, for whom I was writing this post) often assume the burden of persuasion in discussions without even being conscious of it. I brought in liberalism as almost a counter-balance to empathy. A liberal can (and I’m arguing a liberal ought to) have goals other than persuasion and consensus, such as dissenting in order to prevent an illusion of unanimity and to keep people accustomed to hearing contrary views — and these goals can be met even if the liberal is not yet prepared to make a persuasive argument.

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