We think of belief as something that “is.” But how might conflict unfold differently if we were to consider our belief about the other person not as fact, but as a working hypothesis? What might be possible if understood our belief as something that may or may not eventually prove true?
When we’re in conflict with someone we’ve known for a while, our beliefs about them shape our thinking and our actions.
If, for instance, we believe they are passive-aggressive, that belief feeds our harsh judgment of them or causes us to treat them as broken. If we believe they are out to get our job, that belief feeds our defendedness (yes, I meant that word, not “defensiveness”) and perhaps our aggression. If we believe they no longer love us, that belief shapes our coldness or our clinginess.
When we believe, then act, and believe, then act, we create a habitual response that may well be founded on something not entirely true. They, of course, are probably doing the same.
How, then, do we break this cycle? How do we get ourselves to suspend our disbelief long enough that we have a chance to test our beliefs and see the other person whole?
One way is to think of our beliefs as working hypotheses in the midst of testing. It takes some practice to remember this, but if the idea interests you, it can become memorable. Print it out and hang it on your bulletin board or refrigerator to remind you until it takes root.
If you’re interested in the source of the Leonard Mlodinow quote, you can find it in this wonderful On Being radio interview.