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.
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.
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.