What if You Don’t Want to Learn?

As a fitting start to Black History Month, I’ve been thinking about all the learning I’ve been doing during the COVID year. Much of it has been about racism, the history of race, and unconscious bias. It’s really opened my eyes about a lot of areas for growth in my attitudes and actions, as well as confirming things that have made me uncomfortable my whole life. I’m glad I’m going through all this, and feel more grounded in reality every day.

Harvey, under my desk, asks when it is going to be Black Dog History Month?

Now, I’m open to learning about this stuff, even knowing perfectly well that as a human, I’m programmed to detect “others” and be on guard for them. The book I’m currently reading (Sway) makes the point that just because there are things hard-wired into us doesn’t mean we can’t change. It also helps that I hang around with people who are also open to learning about this stuff, want equality for everyone, and are willing to work on it.

But, after hearing my sister tell a story about how surprised she was to find out that someone she liked lived in the alternate reality where many in the US hang out, I got to thinking about how many people are fine and dandy just the way they are, and are not open to changing how they think about others. Complacency seems to be pretty darned common.

I’m understanding more and more WHY the big divide in the US exists, from a big picture perspective. When you feel a real attachment to your “tribe,” where all your friends, family, and admired celebrities are, the last thing you want to do is not fit in. It’s a lot easier to tell yourself that these people’s beliefs are correct, good, and appropriate from you than to stick out like a sore thumb, get picked on, or even get ostracized from the group (which has happened to a lot of people I know!). Divisiveness pays!

I know that yelling your beliefs louder and louder is not effective in changing people’s views. Image by @FreedomTumZ via Twenty20.

There’s really nothing enticing about being open to changing your views, if all the rewards come from sticking right where you are. My current idea is that, if we want people to change, even a teeny bit, asking them to compromise probably isn’t the right tactic. There needs to be something in it for those folks. It seems to me that if there were some reward for being willing to learn about other points of view and maybe even changing your mind, people might be more willing to put in the effort and sacrifice some comfort for it.

I’m testing my hypothesis by trying to figure out what kind of reward it would take for ME to be more open to listening to the other side. One if family unity. I do listen to certain family members, because I want to keep them in my family more than I want to feel better than them because I’m on the “right” side. Another is satisfying my curiosity. I have always found it useful to figure out what some group is actually about when I have a strong gut reaction. That has helped me learn a lot about Islam, its various types, and the variety of ways it’s expressed. Now, rather than disliking a whole group of people, I only have an issue with a small portion, just the same as I do with Christians, Jews, and others.

Nope, a trophy probably won’t work as a reward. Image by @fabien.bazanegue.photography via Twenty20.

But, those seem like rather internally oriented rewards. I wonder if something more physical or tangible would help? What, like getting paid to learn all about Qanon (or whatever that is). That doesn’t work for me. I just want to know where all these ideas about people eating babies come from. I guess I don’t know elite-enough people.

So, I end up at a loss. I can’t think of any reward that would entice someone who’s perfectly happy as a racist, a sexist, a radical religious extremist, or a fascist to want to learn about what people over on my side refer to as “facts.”

Any ideas? Am I entirely off base? What could make people more open to learning about “the other” in their lives? Has anyone read a book that might guide me? (Like I need another book to read…not.)