I have probably read all of the “Peanuts” cartoon strips that were created by Charles Schulz, but one of his stories in particular stands out in my mind. The character of Linus discovers that the summer camp he is attending is being run by a group with very strong religious beliefs that are very different from his own. One night, he’s sitting around the campfire with all the other campers, listening to that night’s lecture from the group’s leader. At one point, he raises his hand and politely asks, “May I ask a question, sir? Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?”
I don’t know about you, but I find it very easy to identify with Linus. I don’t care what the subject is–something as important as religion or politics, or something as trivial as which local restaurant makes the best guacamole— I am always a bit uncomfortable around people who are so very, very sure that they are absolutely right. Of course I understand that strong beliefs are not only okay, but necessary, as we navigate our way through this messy and confusing world. But I think that we should always leave room for that tiny bit of doubt that keeps us from being so sure about our beliefs that we end up being caught in a cocoon of our own arrogance and assumed superiority.
When we are too sure that we are right, we become the people who know very well how to talk, but forget how to listen. We become the people who want to silence those who disagree with us, because we are so very certain they are wrong and that their opinions are dangerous. We tend to close our minds to new ideas, other perspectives and even out-and-out facts that challenge our views.
Personally, I have been wrong so many times in my life that I find it easy to believe that I will be wrong many, many times again. I do know what my life experience, my education, and my observations have taught me so far, and that has shaped my beliefs. But I also know that the longer I live, the more I learn, and sometimes new information presents itself that causes me to rethink, re-evaluate and sometimes even change some of my most firmly-held convictions. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Remember when the latest scientific evidence taught us that the world was flat? Neither do I, because I’m not quite that old. But the point is that we are making new discoveries all the time that are going to challenge some of the beliefs that we hold dear. And if we’re lucky, we are also going to keep meeting new people, hearing new perspectives and gaining new understandings that are going to shape how we view ourselves and the world around us. Life constantly moves forward.
I think strong beliefs and firm convictions are good, but they are even better when combined with an open mind and a loving, accepting heart. Because none of us can be right all the time.