Beliefs

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These are the core beliefs that we have agreed on by consensus in Why This Way. These beliefs are closely related to the rules of communication and the starting points. All are works in progress, although the rules of communication are relatively more well-established.

Contents

Beliefs

WTW-green-50.png This section is part of our core beliefs and practices. The content of this section reflects the consensus of our group. Always obtain consensus at a meeting before editing this section. Other material on this page is part of our general wiki and may not reflect complete consensus.


  • All people are valuable.
  • All communities and cultures have value.
  • There is a state of being of people, groups of people, and culture, which is healthy and desirable. This state:
  • encompasses the individual: beliefs, thoughts, physical health, feelings, actions, life circumstances, and social relationships.
  • encompasses the group: social relationships, culture, and relationships to the physical world and other living beings.
This state is manifested in the following ways:
  • People think clearly.
  • People treat each other with respect.
  • People view and treat each other as whole people.
  • People respond to their emotions in empowering and constructive ways.
  • People communicate honestly.
  • People take responsibility for their actions.
  • People feel like their basic needs are met.
  • People are not coerced or deceived into doing things that they would not choose to do of their own free will (all actions are consensual).
  • Society is sustainable.
  • When working towards a goal, people question whether their actions are having the desired effect.
  • Acting in accordance with our values is always more important than the growth, financial prosperity, and reputation of the organization.
  • We place more importance in the principles and spirit of our rules, core beliefs, and practices, than we do in their literal wording.

Commentary and explanation

Some of our beliefs are worded in more general ways, without being explicitly defined. This generality leaves open the room for different ways of interpreting the beliefs. Although we have a consensus in our group about the beliefs themselves, in some cases we do not have a consensus about certain interpretations. For instance, we believe that all people are valuable, but we don't have a consensus about at what point someone is a person. With this ambiguity, though, we still believe that the value of all people is a powerful idea.

Each one of our beliefs has a thoroughly-discussed intent behind it. One of our beliefs is that we place greater importance in the spirit of our rules than in their literal wording.

This clarification section attempts to capture as much as possible of the spirit of the beliefs.

Value of all people

Our belief that all people are valuable is one of the first beliefs we agreed upon. We consider this belief to be helpful in protecting people against unhealthy ways of thinking, such as ideas that can drive a person to doubt their own value. We also think this belief can be helpful in shaping or evaluating social structures, in the sense that when social structures treat people as not being valuable, it is often a sign that they are harmful or unhealthy in some way.

It is important that our belief in the value of all people does not involve comparing the relative value of people. The value in our belief also does not depend on people's actions or moral status: i.e. a person can do bad things and still be valuable.

We do not have a consensus in our group about exactly who is considered a person. For example, different people in our group have different beliefs about whether personhood begins at birth, at conception, or at some other time. However, we do have a consensus that people in this belief includes all people regardless of sex, race, actions, beliefs, or membership in various groups.

We also do not have a consensus in our group about the nature or origin of the value of all people. Our group includes people who see this value as inherent or innate, as well as people who see this value as originating from God.

Different uses of the word "value"

We also have noted that there are different types of value that people can have in a practical setting, and that these values do not necessarily apply to all people. For example, an employee might be valuable to a business, or a person might be valuable to their friends. This value exists on top of or in addition to the value described in our beliefs.

When we are talk about value, we talk about a more universal type of value that does not depend on any of these sorts of relationships.

Healthy state

Respect

One of our beliefs about a healthy state is that, while in a healthy state, people treat each other with respect. This belief applies to all people at all times and is independent of the actions of the people who are being treated with respect. That is, any situation in which someone is acting disrespectfully towards another person, we would see as existing outside of a healthy state.

There are different ways of interpreting respect; these interpretations vary not only culturally, but from one individual to the next. There are certain types of respect that we consider part of our interpretation of respect, others that we would consider inconsistent with our beliefs, and still others that are not necessarily our own views but do not necessarily conflict with our views.

We distinguish respect from obedience or agreement. Our views on respect are discussed in more detail on our page on respect.

Viewing and treating people as whole people

The concept of viewing and treating people as whole people, rather than identifying them with one particular attribute, quality, or function, is a key idea in Why This Way. This idea can be seen as a positive principle opposed to objectification, in which a person is viewed as an object. Our rules of communication specify to talk about people as whole people, which also corresponds to our rule against applying negative labels to people.

It is hard to concisely sum up the implications of this belief, but some of the things that this belief relates to include acknowledging certain things:

  • People have thoughts and feelings of their own that others do not directly see.
  • People may have reasons behind their beliefs and actions which we are not aware of.
  • People are influenced by situations.
  • People's beliefs, habits, personality, and other attributes can change over time.
  • Because people and their lives are so complex, each person only sees a small portion of other people's lives and experiences, especially for people that they are not particularly close with.

All of these aspects of a person are part of a whole person. Viewing and treating people as whole people, as we see it, involves thinking and acting consistently with these observations. Some ways that a person might be acting contrary to this belief, which we would thus consider unhealthy, would be:

  • Acting in such a way that disregards the feelings of other people (such as acting in ways that are needlessly insensitive of others' emotions or needs).
  • Acting or speaking as if a person did not have any reason (or any "valid" or "good" reason) for believing what they do or acting in the way that they do.
  • Viewing another person's actions as attributable solely to personality traits and failing to acknowledge the ways in which their actions have been influenced by the situation. In psychology, this is part of what is called the Fundamental Attribution Error or FAE.
  • Viewing or treating other people as incapable of change or growth.
  • Focusing on one aspect (or a few aspects) of a person and ignoring other aspects of their life. Examples of this can be diverse, like a professor who treats students as if they are not enrolled in any other classes or activities, or a boss in a job who does not acknowledge or consider the possibility that an employee may have other responsibilities outside of work.

Responding to emotions

We have the belief that in the healthy state, people respond to their emotions in empowering and constructive ways. We have chosen not to make any statement about the emotions themselves, because we want to avoid making any implication that an emotion itself can be right or wrong, and instead focus on people's actions.

Our approach to emotions is nuanced; we want to avoid generalizations about emotions being good or bad, or even about specific types of emotions being good and bad. We also recognize that people can be different in the ways in which they experience emotions, as well as the ways they respond to emotions, and that there is a broad range of different ways of expressing and responding to emotion that can be healthy and beneficial.

It is important to create an environment, culture, and belief system that does not attack people or make them feel wrong for expressing negative emotions. We think that negative emotions can often be a critical signal that there is something bad about a situation, a "red flag" so to speak, and that ignoring or suppressing them, or shutting down anyone expressing negative emotions, can allow problems to go unsolved or allow harmful processes to go on for a long time.

At the same time, certain ways of responding to negative emotions can create problems, such as when people act on anger in hostile or violent ways, or when tension creates escalating arguments that cloud rational discussion. Negative emotions can also spiral out of control in depression, where a person experiences a persistent negative state that clouds their thoughts and leads to inaction or self-destructive actions.

One of the key reasons behind the wording of this belief is that people usually have little direct control over the emotions they are experiencing in the moment, but they have much more control over how they respond to their emotions. We thus want to make our beliefs and discussions focus on the elements of life that people have more direct control over.

People feeling that their basic needs are met

One of our beliefs is that, in the healthy state, people feel like their basic needs are met.

Our reasons for the inclusion of this item is that when people feel like their basic needs are not met, it can lead them to act more drastically than they otherwise would. For example, a person might steal if it were the only way of obtaining food, or might react with hostility if they felt they were being physically threatened. We believe that the state in which people feel that their basic needs are met is one which facilitates the sort of thoughts, dialogues, and actions which we consider part of the healthy state.

It is important that this belief is worded feel like, instead of the more direct "people's basic needs are met" for several reasons:

  • People do not always agree on what basic needs are. There are also different levels of need, from essential biological needs like food, water, and physical safety, to social needs and more abstract, existential needs.
  • People's perception that their basic needs are threatened or not met can drive them to do harmful things, even if their perception is distorted.
  • Some people may have an idea of basic necessities that is actually more than they need to feel comfortable, and it may be possible for those people to go from feeling like their basic needs are not met to feeling like they are, just by changing their perception.

Responsibility

Our belief about responsibility has considerable nuances to it that have been the subject of ongoing discussion. The belief used to address not just taking responsibility for one's own actions, but that it is unhealthy to take responsibility for some things besides one's actions. Where to draw the line of responsibility being healthy or unhealthy is hard for us to articulate, and it also depends on how we define responsibility. We do have a practice about not taking responsibility for other people's emotions or internal states.

Taking responsibility for problems one did not cause

It is common for people to take on responsibility related to problems or messes caused by other people. Examples include:

  • The new director of an organization helping the organization to recover from financial mismanagement, corruption, or past blunders of the organization.
  • A person walking around their neighborhood, picking up litter and trash that other people discarded.
  • People lending emotional support and a listening ear to friends, family, or strangers suffering from past emotional trauma.

Our belief is not intended to imply that there is anything unhealthy about people working on these sorts of tasks. However, it is intended to set healthy boundaries, and it is related to our beliefs about blame; blaming others is explicitly prohibited in our Rules of Communication, and in many cases it can also be contrary to this belief, because blaming can sometimes mean holding people responsible for things beyond their control. Because a person does not necessarily have complete control over the outcome of situations like those above, it is important for the person to not hold themselves responsible for the outcomes.

For example, in the first scenario above, if, in spite of the director doing the best she can, the new organization folds due to financial difficulties caused by past mismanagement, it would be unhealthy for the new director to consider herself fully responsible for the failure of the organization. It would also be unhealthy for other people to blame her, because this blame may encourage her to take responsibility for something beyond her control.