I really was only a participant in the conversation by accidental eavesdropping. I was passing by a group of people talking in a large institutional building. I happened to know some of them, so I nodded and made brief connections with a few of them. I overheard one of them saying: “I believe that human beings are basically bad. I’ve seen how people are, and they are just basically bad.”
I walked away from that very brief moment immediately pondering what I had just heard. There was something not quite right about it, and it was more than my own firmly held idea that people are basically good. What was bothering me was what I knew of the speaker. I knew him to be a genuinely nice man, one whom I had seen in a few settings reaching out to others, extending himself for others; a thoughtful man. His own actions in the world contradicted his tightly held idea: that human beings are just basically bad.
Ideally, our ideas and the way we act in the world coincide. I suspect that most of us think that we do act according to our ideas. In fact, I suspect that we contradict our ideas by our actions all the time. I find a lot of conservative political and religious ideas objectionable, but often the people I know who say that they believe those ideas act rather generously in the world. Likewise, I know what they often say about those of us who hold liberal ideas, and I often wonder who they are talking about. It would seem from their social media that they are rejecting me along with their ideas about what a liberal is. Face to face, most often they welcome me. And so it goes.
When ideas and actions don’t match, then which matters more? I think most people will say that actions matter more. If so, then why bother with ideas? Ideas can serve to help us navigate life issues that confuse us–if ideas open us up to seeing things with a new perspective, in a large way, with clarity. All of that, however, can be disturbing, and ideas may make confusing things just more painful for a while. If ideas serve simply to make us feel better, they may also be leading us astray or at least keeping us in denial, ignorant.
I am fairly convinced that we create communities of belonging through how we act more than the ideas we hold. The ideal community would be one where the ideas of the community and how it acts are one. The community that we all want to belong to, however, is the one that actively, demonstratively shows us that we are welcome, and then continues to behave that way.