“A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” – Mahatma Gandhi
The A&E show Duck Dynasty follows a Louisiana family that started from very poor roots and became wealthy making duck calls, and even more so after the Duck Dynasty mania you have likely noticed. However, that’s really just the tagline and of course there is more to the family than the fun loving people you see on the show; they are Christians and very outspoken ones. Part of their appeal is no doubt their genuine, down to earth attitudes that are evident through every show and in every book they have published. And, rather than being the typical family in disarray or toothless backwoods people that are generally presented to Americans to gawk at, they seem to be doing pretty well. What more, it is pretty obvious their wealth doesn’t seem to have much at all to do with the joy they have as a family. They credit God for their success and happiness and they do it without the typically required southern cultural sentiment that we so often hear. Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family and founder of Duck Commander, has quite a story to tell regarding his conversion from his sex, drugs, and rock and roll loving earlier years to the family loving, virtuous man he is today. You can watch him tell his story on the I am Second website.
In case Duck Dynasty wasn’t already a name in your house it likely is now. Recently Phil Robertson made politically incorrect comments regarding homosexuality and other sexual practices from his biblically based worldview. In other words, instead of lying to appease people he simply stated what he believed was true. One of the most common reactions I have seen online and have heard from people on both sides of the issue is how refreshing it is to hear someone just being real and not trying to shovel ummm…meadow muffins?…at us as if we are children. There is a great deal of respect shown when someone will deal with you on equal terms and fully expect you to handle any disagreements as an adult.
Rather than focusing on the subject of the issue (which is best done in person where a real conversation can take place), I think we can find common ground on the topic of convictions and our growing inability to have them and stand by them.
1. a fixed or firm belief: No clever argument, no persuasive fact or theory could make a dent in his conviction in the rightness of his position.
Where conviction starts
The basis of conviction starts with an emotional or anecdotal belief. Either life experience, the environment you were raised, or some deeply seeded confidence or assurance that seemingly has no origin moves you to feel a certain way about a subject, whether the subject is homosexuality, interracial marriage, or your favorite sports team. However, conviction means more than simply choosing a side. As stated in the definition, it is fixed or firm. A conviction will move you in the direction of that belief with confidence.
This does not mean your conviction cannot change. In fact, the act of convincing means to persuade someone’s belief based on argument or reason. If someone cannot be persuaded or shaken from their beliefs, either the argument is not reasonable to them or something else is getting in the way; usually a desire to maintain their current position because so much of their life is built around a previously formed conclusion, or in short, pride.
Where conviction matures
Like any good thought, conviction is made greater by the evidences of truth. Having conviction is an admirable quality, however, having immature logic or reasoning to support it is not. If you do not seek the truth above all else you will not find peace in your convictions. They will feel harsh and easily offended. I believe the quote below sums this up well.
“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get neither comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” – C.S. Lewis
Be an Individual
I have had the opportunity to be a small part of some political campaigns (which is not something I would ever desire to do again). Each time a map was brought out which divided up areas based on race, age, and income. I am not a fan of putting people in groups for many reasons that I won’t go into here, but I do think we instinctively do this to ourselves. We want to be accepted and generally feel that finding like-minded people to associate with and even identify with is the same thing as being right in our beliefs. As Malcolm Muggeridge satirically states:
“My opinion, my conviction, gains immensely in strength and sureness the minute a second mind has adopted it.” – Malcolm Muggeridge
However, this is not the same thing as being sure of your own ideas as an individual, or at least certain enough to defend them on your own. Groupthink causes people to become codependent upon the culture of the group, e.g. ethnicity, gender, social status, and find their security within the group. This codependency prevents one from critically and objectively evaluating their own beliefs for fear they may lose their shelter or support of the group.
Our Founding Fathers questioned authority and were deep believers in the rights of the individual. This doesn’t mean being always obstinate and rejecting authority. This simply means taking an objective look at the motives and actions of those in leadership positions. This can be hard because it will likely result in finding fault with those you respect and then being consciously driven to challenge them in certain areas. It will also make you a better leader when you are called to a position of greater responsibility.
Find Logical Grounds for Your Belief
“When the intensity of emotional conviction subsides, a man who is in the habit of reasoning will search for logical grounds in favour of the belief which he finds in himself.” – Bertrand Russell
Convictions can be completely emotionally based; this is still conviction. In fact, you will likely find that most arguments for or against a point of view are done from an emotional stance. Name calling and mud slinging derail any real debates but will likely move people who are primarily guided by their emotional whims. While a conviction may start as a feeling, a man ought to find sound reason for the stance he is willing to take. We are emotional beings and spiritual beings, but we are also thinking beings and we should endeavor to find support for our convictions on all levels.
Seek the truth first and be willing to be wrong
There is no use attempting to find logical support for what you believe if you are not open and willing to be proven wrong. Anyone can find anecdotal support for their beliefs. When we see someone like Phil Robertson, who seems so deeply rooted, it is hard to imagine that they hold any room for doubt. This is what often spurs the comments of being close-minded from detractors. However, people of strong convictions have generally become that way by constantly challenging and refining their beliefs. They know the areas they are not certain of and the areas they feel very certain about. What may come across as being close-minded and dismissive is really just an expression that looks something like this: “I have already thought of that scenario and have been down that road in my mind and in conversations and have come to my own conclusion.” In other words, “I am willing to be convinced otherwise, I just have not found an argument that will do so.”
You will also find the Phil’s of the world do not take the emotional bait. For those whose home field advantage is an emotionally charged arena, it begins to look like foul play by their opponent when they insist on taking the high ground.
Remove the emotional component
Suppose we have a conviction that beating a woman is wrong. You may think this is an obvious belief that everyone should hold but in other cultures there are allowances for husbands to abuse their wives. Suppose that someone from one of these cultures said they did not see anything wrong with beating a wife every now and then. Can you feel the blood beginning to boil? Now imagine you haul off and beat the guy senseless. You might feel better but what have you accomplished? In his view, and his supporters, you just attempted to solve a problem the same way they would with their wives. Furthermore, you have only impacted the one man and not deeply enough to cause his beliefs to change. But if you hold your cool, and can explain why his way of thinking is wrong you may gain something. Also, it would be appropriate to let him know the consequences should he ever be caught treating his wife in an abusive manner.
In a day and age of Facebook and other virtual debates, emotions will not translate very well. It really does come across as some sort of unthinking idiot who doesn’t have command of a keyboard or spell check much less their own emotions. When you are sticking up for your beliefs and challenging others on theirs, they are looking for reasons to dismiss you. Not just your ideas, but you entirely. The easiest way to avoid catching someone else’s convictions is to make them out to be an untrustworthy source of authority. (See the section below on authority)
Here is the main point about emotionally based convictions. People do not trust those who are so emotionally vulnerable and so easily shaken. A small prick is all it takes to upset someone who leads with their emotions. However, a man who has formed a logical structure upon which his belief is bolstered has many layers to go through before he can be destabilized.
Do your research
Nearly everything we believe we do so on “authority”. Here is C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on this:
“Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think is trustworthy. Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority. … The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority — because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.” – C.S. Lewis
There are likely many authorities that have written on a particular subject. Don’t be afraid of adopting other peoples information as your own, but be certain that you have a grounded understanding of why and what it is they are saying.
Stay Tuned for Part 2
In the next half of this article I will focus on understanding logical fallacies, putting our convictions to the test, and how to speak and write with conviction.