Starting Points

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These starting points are intended to be statements that nearly everyone would agree with, but that we consider to be good things to think about or focus on. It will not necessarily be possible to derive our beliefs from these statements, but we hope that our beliefs will be congruent with these statements in easily-apparent ways.


Starting points

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.

  • People have different beliefs, including:
  • Beliefs about what is important
  • People have different assumptions, including:
  • Assumptions about what other people believe
  • Assumptions about cause and effect
  • Assumptions about what sources of information are reliable
  • Assumptions about how people use language
  • People use language in different ways.
  • People may use the same word or phrase to refer to different concepts.
  • People may use different words or phrases to refer to the same concept.
  • People attach different connotations or associations to the same word or phrase.
  • People's beliefs, habits, personality, and other attributes can change over time.
  • People may have beliefs, thoughts, feelings, situations, and past experiences that we are not aware of or do not completely understand.


People have different beliefs

Awareness of the fact that people have different beliefs can facilitate more fruitful dialogue. Our rules of communication specify for people to not state as fact something that is uncertain, and to use I statements when talking about any beliefs or thoughts for which there may not be a consensus. These rules make people word statements in ways that draw attention to the ways in which other people may have differing viewpoints. And the process of one participant in the group interrupting a person: "I don't agree with that, can you rephrase that as an I statement?" brings direct attention to the differing beliefs. Another way of viewing these rules is that they aim to prevent people from speaking as if their own beliefs are the only ideas that can be considered, so as to create an atmosphere where diversity of beliefs is valued.

The idea that people have different beliefs is also useful when considering other people's actions. People's actions often reflect their beliefs about how they want to live and what they consider important. People may do things that conflict with the value systems of others, but that may be consistent with their own value systems. This idea is useful in pointing out that when someone does something that you disagree with, it doesn't necessarily mean that they have negative intentions.

Beliefs about what is important

People have different beliefs about what things are important, both to them, and to society or the world as a whole. In some discussions, people can end up talking past each other if each person or group focuses exclusively on what they think is important to them. Acknowledging that other people may place different relative levels of importance on different things than we do can be a first step towards better understanding where someone else is coming from.

We often start our meetings and discussions by asking if anyone has anything important they want to discuss. We ask what is important to an individual, not just when points of conflict arise, but also when new people come in, or sometimes during lulls in the conversation. A frequent occurrence in our meetings is for people to ask what points or topics people want to discuss more, or for people to voice what topics or points they consider to be important to them.

People have different assumptions

A key idea in Why This Way is raising awareness of, and then discussing, hidden assumptions that underlie people's belief systems and ways of approaching life and communicating with others. Many of these assumptions can be unconscious, in the sense that they represent ways of understanding the world which people take for granted and rarely if ever bring into conscious awareness.

Because different people have different life experiences, live in different environments, and have been exposed to different ideas, each person has their own unique set of assumptions, and these assumptions often differ from one person to the next.

By focusing on the idea that we may have hidden assumptions, we can help to bring these assumptions out into the open and question them. And by focusing on the idea that others may have these assumptions that may differ from ours, we can help to identify and prevent miscommunications, and lead to greater mutual understanding.

Assumptions about what other people believe

Assumptions about cause and effect

Discussions or lines of reasoning about how to achieve a desired outcome can often involve assumptions about cause and effect. These assumptions are not necessarily true on an underlying objective level, and a false assumption can be problematic even if there is no apparent disagreement in a discussion. In some cases though, assumptions about cause and effect can be mutually contradictory and can lead to tension or conflict. For example, people with different political views usually hold different assumptions about the effect that various policies or approaches would have on the world. If people disagree with a certain policy, the assumption that they understand cause and effect the same way we do can lead to the erroneous conclusion that they don't care about or support our intended goal or outcome.

One of our core beliefs is that, when in a healthy state of being, when people are working towards a goal, they check to see that their actions are having the desired effect. This checking in, evaluating of the outcome can help to identify problems in assumptions about cause and effect, such as when people assume that a certain action will have a desired result, and then it does not. Awareness of the subjectivity of our understanding of cause and effect can also help people to see and understand the importance of checking in on the results of our work, because it can make us realize that we are not always guaranteed to see things turn out the way we want them to.

Assumptions about what sources of information are reliable

Assumptions about how people use language

People use language in different ways

Like many of our starting points, the observations that people use language in different ways can be seen as extremely obvious, yet are often overlooked in conversations and dialogue, especially when discussions become heated.

These observations relate to our rules of communication which specify to use words within the range of meanings used in society at large. Although this rule does not ensure that people will use words or hear or interpret words the same way, it aims to prevent or address the deliberate use of language in a highly specialized way that most people are unlikely to be familiar with and are likely to interpret. One goal of this rule is to prevent some of the more major forms of miscommunication, as well as presenting some of the ways in which communication can be inaccessible to a general audience.

These starting points also relate to our process of communication, which encourages people to interrupt people to clarify points as well as to draw attention to disagreements with statements that have been stated as fact. The goal is to encourage people work out potential points of confusion first, before the conversation carries on at length and builds a lot of ideas which may be based on misunderstandings.

It is common in discussions in Why This Way for people to seem to be disagreeing on on a point, only to realize that they are using certain words or phrases in different ways. In many cases, when people ask each other for clarification about what exactly they mean when they use certain words or phrases, the apparent disagreement vanishes or is diminished. This is of great use in helping to reach consensus. Our focus on different ways people use language is not limited to literal meaning, but also includes connotations and associations, which can sometimes be of a personal nature. These observations can be of importance in situations where people have strong emotional reactions to certain words. Also, people may use a given word in more or less the same way, but may think up different examples from their own lives when they hear the word--and these examples may communicate different things to the dialogue in which the word is being used. Sometimes, rather than asking for exactly what a word means, the type of clarification needed to resolve an apparent conflict is more along the lines of asking a person if they are thinking of a specific scenario or if they have a specific example in mind.

People's beliefs, habits, personality, and other attributes can change over time

The idea that people's attributes can change over time is important. A person may say something like "he's never going to change," with respect to another person's negative habit or tendency. But that statement is not something that a person can know for sure, and it can also negatively impact the person's ability to change. For example, say a woman's husband is addicted to alcohol. If she views him as incapable of changing, she may be less likely to see the small increments of progress that he does make. If he stays sober for an unusual amount of time and then takes a drink, she may point out the fact that he's drinking again instead of the fact that he had been sober for that long. Pointing out things like that may be discouraging to the man, and he may feel like he isn't making progress, which probably makes it a lot harder for him to actually change his habits.

Viewing someone's attributes as being capable of changing is part of viewing someone as a whole person. Our beliefs say that in a healthy state, people view and treat each other as whole people.