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Preference or Just Plain Wrong? Why We Get Caught Up In Beliefs vs. Facts

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grant-stenzelBy: Grant Stenzel, MS Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Oftentimes, we view our beliefs as facts. Don’t think you fit that description? Allow me to sit in your passenger seat for a second. If you’re in the left lane, are you going over the speed limit? If so, are you getting frustrated with those who are going too slow, passing anyone who you don’t think is going fast enough? This is a belief vs. fact situation. We each believe that there is a limit to how much over the limit we can go, and if people are not going our speed, they’re not fast enough. Whether you think 10 miles over or 15 is more appropriate, both answers are in no way fact. These are preferences that control our decisions and behaviors on a daily basis.

Preferences, like the driving example, also shape our personal relationships. As a marriage counselor, I often see couples who are caught in deep arguments based on their individual beliefs. The husband may think that is appropriate to open presents on Christmas Eve, while the wife thinks it’s supposed to be on Christmas Day. Although this seems menial, these highly-personal preferences are formed so early on in our lives that they seem like facts and make it much harder to step away from without feeling offended in some way.

Beliefs and facts extend beyond individuals to our culture as a whole. Even within the United States, we have different subcultures depending on the region. When someone from New York comes to the Midwest, they may think that people are “too nice” and not as honest and outspoken as those from the East Coast. The culture of New York may teach that honesty should be expressed outwardly, no matter how harsh it sounds. Whereas in the Midwest people may not always be honest, because they believe that being cordial is more important. Honesty is subjective, in this situation, and cultural differences exist based on shared beliefs that are often seen as fact.

No matter how big or small the issue is, when faced with a belief vs. fact situation, you shouldn’t automatically assume that different is wrong. Take a moment to stop and think about why you’re frustrated with something or someone. There are behaviors and actions that are, in fact, wrong on a human level, but often it’s just a different preference.

I remember when my wife and I first got married, we would argue over whether to put the cap of the toothpaste on or not. She would forget to do it, and I would get upset. I started taking it too personally, and after one long argument, it dawned on me how quickly we go to war with one another over trite things. What is more important, a toothpaste cap or a good relationship? Once I put it in perspective, I realized that it wasn’t worth ruining our relationship over, and we compromised. I bought my own tube of toothpaste and the war was over. Easy as that.

Although not all situations are as simple as toothpaste, it’s important to step back in all situations and evaluate yourself. We all feel that everyone else should think the way we do, but that’s just not true. Without diversity, our society wouldn’t be what it is today. We balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses by having different preferences. If we can just take some time to walk in another’s shoes, we can respect those differences and learn to see them as beliefs and not facts.