UNCOMMON COMMON SENSE – January 2010

UNCOMMON COMMON SENSE

By Bill Frayer

We Are What We Assume

 

If you are a conservative, you probably cannot imagine how those on the left can possibly be in favor of ideas you think are so irresponsible and dangerous. If you are a liberal, you probably cannot imagine how those on the right can possibly live with themselves by opposing sensible programs which help those who need help the most. In fact, both conservative and liberal thinkers are, in fact, thinking logically. The difference is that they are basing their conclusions on very different value assumptions.

Last month, I discussed assumptions, or ideas we take for granted when we think. When we make assumptions, we usually don’t question them, but accept them as true. Value assumptions are assumptions we make about basic values. People with very different world views, like liberals and conservatives, hold very different value assumptions, which lead to very divergent conclusions. Let’s look at a few examples.

Now, one conservative value assumption is the libertarian idea that government is inherently inefficient and should be minimal. If you assume that a small government is inherently better, you naturally would oppose the kind of government bailouts and government involvement in healthcare being proposed in the US by the Obama Administration. If, on the other hand, you are a liberal, you likely do not trust the free market to make decisions which are in the best interest of the population at large, and you think a legitimate role of government is to look out for the well being of those who need help. You will likely agree with the government spending money to rescue the economy and regulate healthcare. The difference is the underlying value assumptions.

Most opinions are based, to some degree, on value assumptions. If you believe homosexuality is a conscious choice, you may favor policies against legal protection for people based on sexual orientation, which discourage people from “deciding” to become homosexual. If, on the other hand, you believe that homosexuality is an inborn trait, like skin color, you will likely favor policies, like allowing same-sex marriage, which do not penalize homosexuals for being who they are.

If you believe the Bible is indeed the word of God which should be followed literally, you will look to scripture for guidance in every decision you make. If you consider the Bible to be a collection of ancient writings which reflect ancient values which are not particularly applicable today, you will not consult the Bible when making important decisions.

The critical idea here is that our strongly-held opinions are likely based on those values we assume to be true. And we all hold certain strong values. Americans and Canadians value the idea of being punctual and true to our word. Mexicans, on the other hand, do not value punctuality as much and will often value courtesy and making someone happy at the moment more than being absolutely honest. What looks like an unreasonable delay in completing a job to a Canadian or American may seem normal to a Mexican with different cultural value assumptions.

When you have a strong disagreement with someone, try considering how your value assumptions differ. Life partners may argue about money. One partner may believe that it is preferable to conserve wealth to hedge against unexpected expenses. His partner may believe that money is to use and enjoy today. These different value assumptions about money can lead to familiar tensions. Resolving differences can be easier when you identify your different underlying assumptions. Try it. Discuss your value assumptions. You may be surprised.

Next month I will examine creative, outside-the-box, thinking.

Ojo Del Lago
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