People—individually or in a group—have a tendency to gravitate toward certain routines. They navigate a pattern of choices throughout days, months, and generations, each time reaffirming their routines and solidifying their own sense of normalcy. This is done both for survival and to plot a course through the complex hierarchies that embody our world.
We create structures, societies and rules of decorum—whether spelled out like laws or tacitly accepted like social cues and rules of etiquette. And within that spectrum people choose to behave in certain ways.
Behavior toward social situations, popular media and marginalized cultures are, in large part, determined by attitudes. Perceptions—whether fictitious, encouraged by media or informed by experiences—teach our brains to have attitudes about certain situations or sources. Our minds anticipate, as they revert to the familiar comfort of establishing a pattern, to reaffirm the outcome we have already determined when our attitude first formed about that situation, group or event.
Such a distorted expectation (apart from creating a stereotyped, prejudiced assurance of one’s worldview) allows the new evidence either to support what attitudes we already have, or creates cognitive dissonance (when we feel a loss of equilibrium because of the disconnect from what we believe is true contrasted against the information we were just given). At that point, we either discard the evidence (“fake news!”) or are tasked with the criticism of our own attitudes, and what led us to this worldview.
Attitudes are determined by someone’s beliefs. We form our beliefs through experiences, anecdotal understanding from popular media and our own life-driven influences like friends, family, and teachers. These give us a formation of our own sense of justice, power, morality, right, and wrong—and create a foundation from which our attitudes are allowed to form. Our beliefs develop earlier in life than we realize, most of the time, and hone those beliefs as we age, through the validation of our attitudes and behaviors. Only when we are critical of our own worldview, and open to alternate possibilities, can we attempt to adapt these beliefs to change our attitudes and behaviors.
Beliefs are determined by someone’s values. Just as attitudes are shaped and birthed from the foundation of one’s beliefs, the fundamental truths that one believes emanate from what someone values. These are simple, deep issues that we prioritize in our own minds: honesty, wealth, kindness, winning, intelligence, beauty. Often, values are shaped very early in our lives in very subtle ways, principally informed by the people who influence us as young children. This is why it is evident that young, naïve children are not imbued with the racism, homophobia, Islamophobia or transphobia that pervades older children and adults. Through active examination of what we value, and the willingness to understand that one’s own conception of the world might not be the only option, we can widen our paradigms to adapt values that, as we age and grow, we might identify less with.
The thing is, it’s rare for someone to question their own values—most never think about it. In a worldview that goes unquestioned, everything is reaffirmed again and again (it’s like a road made on soft dirt that becomes a significant trench over time), and anything that doesn’t conform to that worldview is refuted and denied. How do we, as a society and individuals, confront and adapt these values? More importantly, is it possible at all?