“Get rid of everything you ever knew…”- a powerful statement from an interview with Arthur Burt. A sentiment that has been the intentional starting point to many life-changing, perspective-shifting conversations over the past couple years. I have learned that I stretch farther, grow more, and believe deeper if I start by assuming that everything I know…is wrong.
In college, as a psych student, I remember being fascinated with the way the brain works. Even the ways in which, sometimes, our minds seem to work against us. For example, cognitive dissonance refers to the state of having conflicting thoughts or beliefs, or beliefs that are inconsistent with our behavior. Basically, our brain does not like to be contradicted. Our brain has the goal of understanding the world around us, and it achieves this by interpreting, organizing, and categorizing everything we experience. Imagine your brain like a well-organized tool box. All the screws in one container, bolts in another, nails in another, etc. Now imagine that someone comes in, opens all the containers, and dumps them out into one big pile on the floor. This is essentially what cognitive dissonance refers to. Psychological stress and tension occur when we are presented with information that contradicts what we already think or believe, or when we find ourselves behaving in ways that contradict our beliefs. In order to avoid this tension and discomfort, we will naturally seek to confirm what we already think or believe to be true. This helps to explain why we are drawn to “like-minded” people. We enjoy being with, and can feel instantly connected to those who share our beliefs, opinions, thoughts, and ideas about the world because it helps to reinforce what we think to be true. When we are presented with opposing opinions, facts, ideas, or beliefs we immediately begin shifting into defense mode in order to avoid the stress and tension that this opposition will cause.
The problem that we must face however, is this-what if we’re wrong?
The only way to challenge ourselves, to shift incorrect assumptions about the world, to determine and solidly stand by what we truly believe-is to risk freaking our brain out. To venture into cognitive dissonance. To engage in conversations, to seek out new information, to intentionally enter into the discomfort and tension of assuming that everything we know is wrong. Your brain will hate it and fight it every step of the way, not becuase its trying to work against you but simply because its trying to do its job. Your brain’s job is to understand, organize, and categorize information. To avoid the imbalance and stress of opposing information. Your brain is like the Type A person who likes to have a plan, a well-charted course. And sometimes we need to just throw the plan out the window, start driving, and see where the road may take us.
Your mind may resist at first, but isn’t it worth it if your soul is radically changed in the process?
Romans 12:2 tells us “do not be conformed any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by renewing your mind.” (Emphasis mine). That phrase “renewing your mind” literally means to change the way you think. The only way to be transformed, according to scripture, is to enter into cognitive dissonance! To change the way you think. To replace old ways of thinking and believing with new revelation of God’s truth.
As I write this, I can think of more than a few “patterns of this world” that I do not want to conform to. Things that have and will continue to require that I be transformed by renewing my mind. One such pattern is the ongoing stereotyping, prejudice, and racial discrimination towards people of color-especially black men-in our country and judicial system. Now, let’s pause for a second. Becuase after reading that last sentence, its likely that one of two reactions occurred. You either thought “Yes and Amen!”, because it affirms an idea and belief you already held to be true. Or you immediately felt the tension of cognitive dissonance. Perhaps you categorized me with one of “those” people, began running through your list of arguments that suggest I’m mistaken, or even judging and discrediting me in order to relieve the tension I created. If that’s you, can I invite you into something? Can I invite you to sit in the tension for a moment? Can I invite you to fight the urge to argue and discredit and stop reading? Can I invite you to sit with the mothers, fathers, children, sisters, brothers, friends and communities who are mourning-to weep and lament with them over lives lost, judgements made, and oppressions imposed due to patterns of this world that are in desperate need of transformation. I invite you into this knowing how difficult it will be. I know becuase years ago, the same invitation was made to me. I had to wrestle with the tension, engage in the conversations, listen with an open heart and mind. I’m just grateful that someone loved me enough to extend that invitation to me. And so today, if that’s you, I want to extend the same invitation. The invitation to be radically transformed by changing the way you think about these patterns of injustice.
If you happen to be of the former reaction- those who thought “Yes and Amen!”, I hear you. I know you are angry, frustrated, exhausted from mourning, desperately trying to hang onto hope in the face of constant disappointment. I know you are battle weary. I know I will never fully understand what its been like to live in your skin. I sit with you. I lament with you. I will stand with you. I thank you for patiently sharing, humbly explaining, and lovingly educating-when what you could have said was “Its about time, what took you so long.”
This is not a matter of “if” its happening. Its not a matter of “where” its happening. Its a matter of humanity. We are never as far removed or separated from these issues as we think we are, or perhaps would like to be. We all-especially those of us who have put our faith in Christ-bear a responsibility to reconciliation and the redemption of humanity.
I used to look at everything broken in the world and think about wanting to change it. I wanted to leave a better world for my children. But I have since shifted that belief. Because to say that I want to leave a better world for my children suggests that the world is here to serve us. But the world is not here to serve us, we are here to serve the world. I do not want to make a better world for my children, but instead I want to make better children for the world. Change does not begin “out there”, rather it begins “in here.” Nothing will change if we do not change. If we do not challenge what we think and believe. If we do not wrestle with the tensions and sit in the discomfort and allow ourselves to be radically transformed by changing the way we think. A radically transformed people will in turn affect a radically transformed world.
If you are willing to venture into the tension, these are a few great places to start…
LISTEN to Lead Stories Podcast. Season 2, episodes 33-35 address racial stigmas and the role we can play in social change.
READ. Articles, blogs, books, etc. written by authors of color. Learn the stories, the history, the issues, the solutions to racial tension.
ENGAGE your people-your friends, your church, your community, your family-in conversations. Ask questions. Listen to understand. Be a Bridge Builder. Visit the site, learn about the work that Latasha Morrison is doing, and get equipped with resources that will help you engage in these conversations for the purpose of unity and reconciliation.
More than anything, lean into grace. Grace and mercy and love. For yourself and others. As a radically transformed people, we have the opportunity to lend our voices to see a world radically transformed.