over a year ago i moved into a new department at work and became friends with a cool guy who shared my nerdy interests. he talked about gaming and his wife and kids and i talked about gaming and my cats. he’s smart, funny, and we’ve commiserated over work together.
very recently, indirectly, i found out that he is a Creationist. it was in a Facebook post of a mutual friend referring to a local event where a Creationist had a display and was going to defend it. when i first saw that he had posted a comment, i assumed it would be something snarky like myself and others had said. but it wasn’t.
i (hopefully) haven’t changed the way i interact with him, but half the time after our normal chats, i walk away thinking, “How could he believe that nonsense!?” and being a bit upset that he’s going to pass it on to his (adorable) children. how can i take him seriously now? i try to judge people based on their behaviors rather than their religion or sexuality – assholes are assholes, they don’t need to be lumped into categories to judge them! but for some reason, though i have many religious friends (and a hardcore Buddhist dad), this REALLY bugs me, and my view of him is radically changed. i don’t like feeling this way! i just want to un-know that part about him. :/ how do i deal with this?
help me, obi rich kenobi!
Dear, uh, Leia,
I’m glad that you don’t like feeling this way, and that you are asking this question. Many, many people never think twice about any inconsistencies between their claimed values and their behavior. If they think about it at all, they often come up with rationalizations for the discrepancy.
You say that you try to judge people on their behaviors rather than their religion or sexuality, and to not lump people into categories for blanket judgment. Good for you. This is an opportunity to see if you can live according to your stated values and ethics.
We are what we do. Our real values and ethics are indicated by how we act them out, rather than how we describe them. Also, we don’t find out what our values and ethics really are when it’s easy. We find out when it’s difficult.
If you want to be the person you have described, sort out your friend’s thoughts and opinions from his actions and behaviors, and sort out your thoughts and opinions from your actions and behaviors.
If it happens between his ears, such as his thoughts, judgments, opinions and beliefs, those do not define what he is. If it happens between your ears, such as your thoughts, judgments, opinions and beliefs, those do not define what you are either. Look for his and your persistent actions and behaviors. Those are what is real in the world; those are what he and you are. Does he treat you and others respectfully, kindly and decently? Do you treat him and others that way? If so, then you are both respectful and therefore respectable people.
There’s respecting someone’s beliefs, and then there’s treating someone respectfully. You don’t have to respect his beliefs. You can’t if you find them absurd. Don’t worry about your judgments of what goes on between his ears. Judgmental thoughts are just another not-in-the-real-world thing going on between your ears. Focus on treating him respectfully, kindly and decently. I think if you concentrate on that, you will be less aware of feeling perplexed and frustrated by his beliefs. Between-the-ears stuff will become less important, and out-in-the-real-world stuff will become more important. It sounds like the things the two of you share are pleasant, and so it seems worth the effort for both the pleasure of the friendship and for the continuing maturing of your own character.
I think this has been challenging for you because you might be associating his creationist belief with some other people who share that belief, but who also have perpetrated disrespectful and unkind actual behaviors against others. If they take reprehensible actions to deliberately hurt people who are different from them, those define what they are. If they do illegal deeds to circumvent the Constitution for instance, those define what they are. If they put forth effort to oppressively deny people their rights, those define what they are. Their belief in creationism might be a big part of their motivation for those doings, or it might not have much or anything to do with it at all. People who believe in creationism don’t have to take hurtful, reprehensible, illegal and oppressive actions because of that belief, and many don’t.
Your friend might eventually learn of your opinions about the development of life on Earth if he hasn’t already, and then he might think the same thing about you, “How could he believe that nonsense!?” Then he will have to decide if he will be the one who lumps people into categories for blanket judgment, and he will also have to decide if even though he does not respect your opinion, he will continue to treat you respectfully, kindly and decently.
I hope he does, but if he begins to treat you poorly, then your next challenge will be to resist the temptation to reciprocate. Never base your standards for your conduct on the conduct of others. That will always spiral down to an awful level. You certainly can and should take care of yourself to avoid or defend against abuse, yet still treat all people respectfully, kindly and decently because of one single reason: