Why Do We Fight Over Beliefs?



Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.    3-15

 ABSTRACT:   Fighting about beliefs is interpreted as actually fighting because of our reactions to differences in beliefs.  The psychological reasons for this are explored, and methods of reducing our difficulties with differences are given.

KEY WORDS:  differences, beliefs, war

Human beings are quite prone to conflicts and fighting with persons or groups that have different beliefs from their own.  We see this in religious wars and political conflicts, as well as in personal suspiciousness and rejection with regard to individuals who are different.  European religious wars killed hundreds of thousands of people, all told, and the “Cold War” and other jostlings for position and security among nations (e.g., the current Ukraine conflict) has eaten up untold amounts of money that could have benefited citizens on both sides in more humane ways.  The current drive by the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq to take territory and establish a fundamentalist Islamic form of government is killing and displacing thousands.  The maintenance by Jewish people of their cultural uniqueness has kept them permanently different from the surrounding cultures in which they have lived, which has unfortunately been one of the psychological foundations of anti-Semitism.  It is useful to recognize that usually when we say we are fighting over “beliefs,” we are actually fighting because of our reactions to differences in beliefs.

This tendency to fight over differences is so destructive that it demands concerted attention by psychologists and others of the human sciences to lessen the destruction.  There now exist extensive writings and studies, including those in the “peace psychology” area, that offer constructive ideas for getting along with other individuals and groups, but an uncertain prognosis for the overall problem is suggested by the fact that governments do not seem to care at all to examine or implement these ideas.  In other words, this type of conflict seems too “natural” to human beings that most do not think seriously about methods of reducing it!  (Perhaps politicians are avoiding the unpopularity with much of their populations of suggesting that those who are different are “just as good as we are.”)  This acceptance of conflict as natural and inevitable combines with our legitimate and inbred willingness to defend our groups and our “way of life” to create wars with their many dead and maimed.

I will analyze the psychological elements in this tendency to be in conflict over beliefs and lifestyle differences and will offer attitude and belief changes that would control and reduce such conflicts.  (1) Human beings react automatically negatively to difference.  (2) Human beings think that their beliefs are key to their survival and thriving in the world (even though this is not true).  (3) Human beings’ convictions regarding their own beliefs are so weak that even observing other individuals or nearby groups successfully doing things according to other beliefs seriously threatens their own sense of security, both because they are unsure how to predict the behavior of people who are different and because seeing others living differently automatically threatens their own beliefs (since they usually have no proof that their beliefs are any better than any others).  (4) Human lives and societies are complicated enough that we benefit significantly from having a certain amount of uniformity among the others in our groups (family, nation, etc.), so we prefer from that standpoint to have everyone believe and behave in basically the same ways.

We should understand fighting and violence in general in the context of our evolutionarily developed inclinations to defend ourselves and our primary groups with violence if necessary.  Since all human groups develop cultures, and since those cultures will inevitably be different from each other, the stage is set for conflicts to develop, not only with regard to access to resources but also because every surrounding group is inevitably, and as argued in this essay, disturbingly different.

If you doubt the reality of the power of difference, imagine sitting beside a person of another color on the subway, and note how you would feel.  Then, imagine going to a service in a church or temple of a totally different faith than your own.  If you can honestly say that you would feel no discomfort or uneasiness, then you are “part of the solution,” and we need to find out more about you!  Surely more than ninety percent of people would feel seriously uncomfortable.  The question for this essay is why.


One of the most critical issues in human relations is dealing with differences between ourselves and others.  This applies to all levels of relationships, from dyads to nations.  Since other human beings affect us or potentially affect us practically all the time, we are always watchful about what they might do toward us, and we depend for our sense of personal security on being able to understand and anticipate the actions of others.  This means that we are most comfortable with those who are just like us.  The more another person is different from us, the more frightened and insecure we become, or conversely, the more effort we must make to preserve our sense of security and to maintain comfortable relations with the other person (by making special efforts to understand the person and predict his/her behavior).  (Differences, if not threatening, can be stimulating and exciting as well.)  Many people would identify their reactions to difference as annoyance, irritation, or anger, but these are reactions to the fear and insecurity that they feel first but cover up.

Key areas of similarity/difference are (a) language, (b) emotional reactions to events, (c) customs of interaction (methods of greeting, dominating, submitting, acknowledging, committing, resolving disputes, etc.), (d) customs for doing things (design of houses, system of justice, system of government, when and how to plant crops, etc.), (e) primary emotions used in the culture to control behavior (shame, guilt, etc.), (f) degree of emotional expressiveness, (g) degree of behavioral restrictiveness, (h) degree of desired personal autonomy (as opposed to following the dictates of authority), (i) identifying self primarily as an individual agent as contrasted with understanding oneself to be first an integral part of the group, (j) concepts used to understand one’s place in the universe and in society (God, status, roles, etc.), and (k) things that are made sacred and then used for worship and to ward off danger.  As you can see, since human life is so complex, there are many, many opportunities for difference!

The more differences there are between us and others, the more likely the situation is to lead to aggression and violence.  For example, Americans are more comfortable with Canadians than with Britons, more comfortable with Britons than with French persons, and more comfortable with Europeans than with Middle-Easterners, all because of these increasing degrees of difference.

When one person reacts with surprise or amazement to an event and another person reacts to the same event with fear, they will be unable to predict each other’s next move.  In a similar vein, those who believe in following the instructions of authority figures (parents, police, teachers, etc.) will distrust and fear those who comfortably decide things for themselves, sometimes contrary to what authorities have said.  When one group is brought up to feel shame in order to control behavior and another has been trained primarily with guilt, they will be unable to understand each other.  People who are trained to restrict their emotional expression are shocked and unbelieving regarding the behavior of those with much greater expressiveness.  Those who are brought up to regard themselves primarily as members of the group (with group maintenance a higher value than individual liberty) will be dismayed and confused by the behavior of those who are raised to place their own benefit above group security.  People who go to church and believe in God will have more difficulty understanding, predicting, and trusting those who do not share those values and behavioral conventions.  People who view certain objects (a Torah) or figures (God, Allah, Mohammed) as sacred may be offended or feel insulted if other people do not treat those objects or figures with equal reverence.  It is fortunate for human beings that we are all so genetically and physically similar, because if we were more different than we are now, we would probably be killing each other at an even higher rate!

Differences in more abstract beliefs (religion, political systems) provoke more fighting than differences in customs (how to greet others, language, what foods to eat), perhaps because they are more nebulous and have widespread implications.  However, customs that we believe have religious origins (are ordained by God) provoke more fighting than customs that do not have sacred origins.


As human beings, we live a life that is uncertain in a somewhat unpredictable environment of which we are not in control.  The environment does not automatically give us the things we need to survive, so we have to work for them, and sometimes we cannot get them (famine, drought) and must make great efforts to survive.  The earth’s own processes include hurricanes, earthquakes, and life-threatening temperatures, which again call on us to make heroic efforts to survive.  The natural world contains enemies (certain bacteria and viruses, lions, tigers, sharks) that can injure or kill us.  Our own fellow human beings can also be very dangerous to us, both within and outside of our own cultures.

A primary adaptation of human beings, in dealing with these many dangers, is predicting the future (or anticipating what will happen next), so that we can avoid harm and prepare for things that may happen.  Since harm does occur, it is appropriate to anticipate potentially harmful circumstances, yet our predictions are not perfect, since we do not understand all of the factors that will determine whether a possible harm or event will take place.  This uncertainty is unpleasant for most people, and they will do or pay quite a bit to reduce or eliminate this uncertainty.  Thus we spend considerable amounts of money and attention on predictions of how another country will respond to an action of our country, who will win the game, what horse will finish first, who will be elected, what stocks will go up, and where a hurricane will go.  These prediction efforts, the reassurances of others (who also want to be reassured), and religious assurances are sufficient to enable most people to tolerate the uncertainties of life (although they are not enough for those who develop “anxiety disorders” such as panic disorder and agoraphobia that seriously disrupt their lives).

To illustrate our dependence on prediction, we have learned that if we cause our muscles to contract in certain sequences and combinations, our bodies will grasp and turn a doorknob that we see, and this is a reliable prediction, but consider how you would feel if reality was such that only half the time the doorknob was where you thought it was when you reached for it.  Until you adapted to this new state of affairs, you would be very upset, and you might die if there were a fire in the room!  The same is true with regard to the behavior of others around us.  When we walk into a room, knowing (at least roughly) who is in the room, we anticipate relative safety, or we would not walk through the door.  Think how you feel if the people in the room are very different from you—perhaps speaking a language that you do not understand and having behavioral rules that you do not understand.  (You think that a slight wave is a friendly gesture, but perhaps because of their culture they see it as an insult.)  You would experience considerable anxiety about being around them, until you learned more about them and could once again predict what will happen and how your behavior might be seen by them.  The important conclusion we reach from these considerations of prediction and uncertainty is that differences are always threatening (even though we can learn ways to moderate our fear and to once again feel relatively secure).

The emotions most often felt in response to differences are fear, confusion, distrust, irritation, frustration, annoyance, consternation, suspicion, shock, disbelief, and insult (or disrespect).  Cognitively our reaction is caution, with the realization that we are not confident in predicting the behavior of the other person.  If the interaction proceeds further than a cautious backing off, it may involve aggression, with verbal or even physical attacks, which are seen most often when the misunderstood behavior of the other person is viewed as dangerous, insulting, disrespectful or as demeaning one’s honor.

Even small differences in customs, such as eating on the floor instead of at a table or eating with one’s fingers instead of with utensils, can annoy us and make us suspicious of others.  We automatically think that our way of doing things is better, usually without any reflection on whether it actually is better or whether it only seems better because it “feels better” to us to do it that way (which is only because that is our already established habit).  Culture is the set of understandings, beliefs, customs, and rules that all members of the cultural group use to organize and coordinate their behavior and goal attainment efforts.  (Culture is often viewed as sacrosanct, even though it is only made up by human beings, probably because people transfer the awe they felt for their parents as virtual gods to the society as a whole and to its forms and rules.)

As another example, a person from a very poor, urban ghetto in the United States may have learned various behavioral indicators for disrespect, such as staring, rolling the eyes, a certain walk, wearing certain colors, or hand movements, that are unknown to persons from other parts of the city or other areas of the country.  There have been instances of gang members killing persons who passed by in the gang area and gave behavioral signals of disrespect inadvertently (not knowing that they were doing so).  This is a tragic outcome, and the “moral” is that people must not assume that the behavioral indicators of respect, etc., that they have learned are universal.  In other words, their emotional reactions may not be justified by what they observe.  In this example, since the gang members did not know the strangers (and therefore should not have assumed that they knew the behavioral language in question), they should inquire of the passers-by whether the behaviors observed did in fact indicate disrespect, before acting.

On the international scene, at least in years past, for a Westerner to proffer a hand for a handshake that was the hand (right or left) that traditionally in a Middle-Eastern culture was used to clean one’s body of excrement was viewed by a Middle-Easterner as a grave insult, whereas the Westerner was in all likelihood unaware of this assumed association and meaning and did not intend any insult at all.  More recently, some Muslims have perceived critical inquiry and humor regarding Mohammed by non-Muslims as disrespectful or even apostasy and have angrily demanded apologies or even condemned the inquirers and humorists to death.  This critical (and sometimes simply factual) inquiry and humor may have in some instances been extreme or over-stated, but these behaviors may have been intended only as critical, as stimulating further thought, or as poking fun at hypocrisy.  To these Muslims, Mohammed is sacred and not to be disrespected in any way.  To Western offenders, Mohammed is not sacred and is subject to the same critical or humorous treatment that Jesus or the Pope would receive.  The Pope might wish that everyone perceived him as sacred, but he realizes that those who do not perceive him as sacred do not necessarily intend to violate his sanctity by criticism or humor–rather they are engaging in the discussion and debate to which the culture subjects everything.  (We might assume that Mohammed would have the same understanding.)

The offended Muslims have applied the behavioral indicators of disrespect from their culture to persons from other cultures incorrectly (i.e., that anything critical of Mohammed or critical of Islam is automatically disrespectful), since these Westerners are operating from a very different value system.  In Western culture, stating reasonable, fact-based criticism and pointing out unacknowledged truths about something or someone through humor are not automatically intended as disrespectful.  It should be clear that misinterpretations such as these will poison all intercultural dealings, and that persons of all cultures must learn as much as possible about the meaning of various behaviors in various cultures.

Respect and honor are taken much more seriously by some groups than others.  In some cultures one’s honor must be defended at all costs.  Gang members who shoot people for disrespect or offended Muslims who do the same are going much further in behavioral response than some other cultures or subcultures would expect or allow.  The gang members, if caught would be punished severely in U. S. culture.  Muslims who kill persons who supposedly disrespect Mohammed would be praised by some other Muslims but condemned by many others.  Afghan tribesmen who kill female family members who are seen to have dishonored the family with their sexual behavior are seen by many as righteous and as acting appropriately (and will not be questioned by legal authority).  For the sake of peaceful coexistence, persons from one culture must be able to perceive that their emotional reactions to disrespect, etc., may be far different from those of persons from at least some other cultures.

Differences in beliefs are even more frightening to us than more visible ones, such as language and race, since beliefs are harder to assess and to understand.  Since human beings create and use symbols, people can easily perceive apparent differences in symbols as being threatening when they may actually be differences in definition (so that an apparent conflict is really due to using different words or different understandings of those words).  Our symbol systems (religion, political systems, economic systems) become so complex that we may never be able to completely understand another person’s beliefs, and this leaves us uncertain about how far to trust.


Human beings think that their particular beliefs are key to their survival and thriving in the world (even though this is not true).  Life is quite complicated, and it requires us to know many things.  We cannot learn everything we need to know from our own experience, so we “take on” the supposed knowledge of others (our parents, the culture).  Unfortunately we cannot be certain about much of what we need to know or have been taught, and this is unsettling for us.  We want to think that we “know” things for certain if we are going to base important actions on them (how to protect our families, when to plant the corn, how to anticipate a flood).  Because we are so insecure in the world, we are very willing to make up explanations when we don’t know something (the people at the end of the earth are cannibals, which is why they have been put at the end of the earth), willing to distort reality in efforts to justify our bad behavior (they are different and probably not even human, so it’s OK to steal their women and other resources), and willing to resort to violence to protect our shaky sense of security (if those people insist on doing things so strangely, let’s just kill them all).  Again, differences between ourselves and others are always disturbing and threatening, and in this increasingly interconnected world, this is causing more and more problems and violence.

Differences make interactions more cumbersome and difficult, since special efforts are required to communicate and to suppress negative feelings that we are having about the differences.  If we want something in trade from those others who happen to be different from us, we can usually overcome the practical problems of the interactions being more cumbersome and difficult.  The psychological issues are more difficult to deal with.


Beliefs, especially religious beliefs, usually express something about our ideals.  God is our wonderful father.  Democracy is the only form of government that provides freedom for citizens.  Women are loving and kind.  Being Catholic is the only way to get to heaven.  My wife loves me and always will.  Thus, challenges to these beliefs are even more threatening than challenges to other kinds of beliefs, such as believing that the best way to get a good job is to go to college, and challenges to these ideals-related beliefs are more likely to lead to antagonism and fighting.  In addition, beliefs that have been simply accepted rather than thought through have usually come from authority figures on whom we are or have been dependent for our survival and welfare, so having these beliefs threatened besmirches those whom we idealize, and our first reaction to that threat is to fight.


Human beings’ convictions regarding their own beliefs are often so weak that to see another person living differently in significant ways or to have a group living in adjoining territory and doing things in significantly different ways seriously threatens our sense of security, both because we are unsure how to predict the behavior of people who are different and because seeing others living differently (presumably according to different beliefs) automatically threatens our own beliefs.  To realize that one’s beliefs may not be the best way to live is unsettling, to say the least, and to avoid that uncertainty and questioning, most people would prefer to fight rather than to tolerate the anxiety and think things through.


Human lives and societies are complicated enough that we benefit significantly from having a certain amount of uniformity among all the people in our groups (family, nation, etc.), so to keep things simple, to keep differences to a tolerable level, and to minimize friction, we prefer to have everyone believe and behave in basically the same ways.


There are many instances, of course, where people fight for other reasons than beliefs or worldview, such as selfish desires to gain territory or resources or desire to establish dominance or superiority over others.  These are often presented publicly as fighting or wars about differences in beliefs or worldview, when they are not.  These selfish aggressions can be dealt with by raising people everywhere to be able to view things from the point of view of others, to make the needs and feelings of others important as well as our own, to take more seriously the impact on us of others’ reactions to our behavior, to view others as basic equals, and to use cooperation and other consequences of equalitarian views to manage our interactions.


If much of the fighting over beliefs is fueled by our responses to difference, then moderating our responses to difference should reduce that fighting.   There are a number of things we can do to foster better relationships with others, including those who are different.  These concepts apply both to your relationships with other individuals and to your part in the relationships of your group to other groups.

1. Recognize your discomfort with difference in the moment, immediately review your commitment to accept and tolerate difference, and immediately implement your methods for accepting and tolerating difference.

2. We can start to deal with our fears and anxieties about difference by acknowledging that the forms and customs of our lives are only one of many possible ways that things can work acceptably.  People could get along just as well grasping each other by both shoulders as a form of greeting instead of shaking hands, and it doesn’t matter whether one says “Hi, how are you,” “Good day,” “How’s it going?,” or “Como esta?.”  It doesn’t matter for relating to others that one culture has young people living at home until they marry while another has them leave home on their own before marrying.  It doesn’t matter for relating whether you plant by the moon or by the leaves (and no one knows which works better).  There is simply no reason to assume that our way is better—it is simply more comfortable for us.  At first it may feel threatening to accept this fact (that our way is not necessarily better), because it feels insecure.  If there are better ways, then we would have to spend a lot of time and energy finding them.  Perhaps we aren’t as smart as we thought we were.

3. A further step is to fully accept that there may in fact be ways that are just as good as ours (or even better), and that it is in our interest to be open to considering all possibilities.  We would then fully accept that our nation and culture are not necessarily better than others and that we are probably no smarter than other peoples either.  America gained its current prominence not because its people were smarter or more God-fearing but because our ambitious ancestors from another part of the globe took over a huge land area from those who were already here and did a great job of exploiting its fine natural resources.  We personally deserve little credit for this.  To accept these new views may be galling at first or may lead to some feelings of uncertainty, but accepting their reality will lead to greater openness to new ideas and ways of doing things, as well as to greater security within ourselves, based on confidence in our abilities to deal with a complex world (instead of feeling secure because of the familiarity of what is around us and because of little white lies we tell ourselves about ourselves).  Please note that this attitude is not degrading to America or American culture—we have a fine nation and a fine culture, but we are not better than other nations and cultures.  We love to pat ourselves on the back and believe that we are the most righteous nation and the savior of the world, but this is simply a story that we have made up to make ourselves feel good.  The United States did not enter WWII against the Germans because democracy needed to be saved; we waited until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.  If you think about it, you will see that there is no evidence that we are overall better than other peoples.

Difficulty trusting and feeling comfortable with those who are different is the most difficult barrier to overcome, but if we are willing to see our fundamental similarities with all others, we can learn to trust again.  All human beings have the same basic motives and feelings and engage in the same kinds of thoughts in trying to achieve their goals.  Everyone wants to create a family, raise children, and have a good life.  Exactly how we structure the tools that we use to accomplish these things (language, laws, social patterns) varies, and the rules that we set up for status and priorities among people vary as well, but we can accept these different forms and customs if we see clearly that they aim to accomplish the same things for those other people as our forms and customs do for us.  They are simply tools and not talismans.

Religion is cited by some as the reason that they cannot accept those who are different–both people within and people outside of their own culture.  In my opinion, the same arguments above apply here as well.  God didn’t say which language we should speak or which laws we should pass, just as He didn’t specify that the cross should be the symbol of Christianity.  He didn’t say that shaking hands should be the way we greet each other.  These rules and customs are irrelevant to religion and should in no way be a barrier between people for religious reasons.  There is likewise no reason to think that a good society can only be constructed by people of one’s own religion.  We all have the same goals in life, and the customs and rules that we set up serve those ends.  We do not treat our neighbors decently because God said to.  We would treat our neighbors decently even if God did not say to, because it makes for better relations if we do, and we feel better when we have good relations with those around us.  If we insist on believing that those people who are not of our religion will not “go to heaven,” etc., then that is reason to feel compassion for them, not a reason to reject them.  Religion is only a barrier to accepting differences if we use it to legitimize or sacralize customs, rather than seeing it in terms of its more fundamental purpose, which is to help us to relate to God or the divine.

4. Stop wanting others to change so that you can be more comfortable or get what you want.  A significant amount of conflict between people is due to some wishing others to change or be different so that they will not feel threatened with regard to those others.  Hence, members of most Christian villages in medieval Europe would not tolerate a person of another religion living in the village, because the presence of that person was thought to represent a threat to the whole village of punishment from God for unbelief.  A wife may fight with her husband about his appreciation of the beauty of other women (or vice versa).  She wants him not to notice those other women so she will feel more secure in his affections.  Currently, some persons in the U. S. may perceive threat from any Muslims in the country, due to Fundamentalist Muslim terrorism in the world, even if those Muslims they see have no wish to harm the U. S. or its citizens.  They would feel safer if all Muslims would move outside the country.  Many people feel threat from those who are noticeably mentally ill, because they feel unable to predict the behavior of such people.  They would like those people to move elsewhere or be in hospitals.

Allowing others to be who they are works miracles in relationships.  Stop wanting people who are different from you to be more like you.  Trying to get others to change for your benefit is usually a losing proposition, since they are just as attached to their ways of doing things as you are to yours, and it is quite difficult for any of us to believe that changing our ways will benefit us (unless our backs are “against the wall”).  It would be convenient and more comfortable if everyone’s ways of doing things were the same, but you will accomplish more by adapting to differences than you will by trying to convince or force others to change.  (The lone exception to this rule is when you propose for the entire community a change that will benefit both you and the other people involved, and even then your proposal should only point out the pros and cons and should not contain any personal urging and certainly should not involve any lying, concealment, or subterfuge.)

If you have troublesome marital conflicts, reflect on how your fights involve each person trying to get the other to be different (see something a different way, react differently to something, behave differently).  It is clear, isn’t it, that if both of you stopped trying to get the other person to be different, most of the fighting would stop?  What you would be left with, of course, would be the other person just the way he or she is, and you would have to decide whether you want to live with that or not.  If you decide you won’t live with that, you can tell the other person what you need to be different in order for you to stay in the relationship, and the other person would then have the option of changing or not (and also saying how he or she needs you to change).  Each party takes responsibility for who he or she is and how he or she acts, and each party decides how to be and how to change, not in response to force, manipulation or lies from the other, but in order to have the pleasure of the other’s company.

What is difficult for us in this scenario is letting the other person decide whether we will get what we want.  We are so used to trying to “get” people to do what we want (talking them into it, making them feel guilty, punishing them, etc.) that we feel vulnerable and frightened if we state our needs and then wait to find out if the other person cares enough to give us what we want (assuming, of course, that they are even capable of giving the things we want).  If they are not capable of giving what we want, then we are trying to get “blood from a stone,” and we would be better off facing reality and either accepting things as they are or looking elsewhere.  We hate feeling vulnerable to others (recognizing that we can be hurt by them), but finding out if the relationships is workable (and ending it if it is not workable) is less painful in the long run than beating your head against a wall of unwillingness or inability.

Of course, the best arrangement is making it worth their while to give what we want by giving them what they want first.  Any stable and mutually satisfying relationship must seem worthwhile and worth preserving to both parties.

In general, it is in the best interest of the human race for people to be more similar to each other around the globe, since they will then get along better because they are similar to each other.  Empathy, understanding, and self-control can do a great deal to minimize conflict and violence, but it would be even better if customs across the world (language, ethics, attitudes about sex, etc.) could become more similar so that people would naturally be more comfortable with each other.  If people were open to changing some customs and doing things in ways that are different ways from the ones they grew up with, then perhaps customs could gradually become more similar around the world.

5. Allow others to be who they are, within reason.  Approach all relationships with the assumption that it is good for people to be who they are and who they want to be.  Don’t take on relationships that can only be good for you if you are able to change the other person.  Instead seek out people with whom you fit well already, and approach them with the expectation that they will allow you to be who you are as well.  (This may suggest that you leave relationships that are abusive or harmful to you, even if they are close family relationships.)

6. Try to understand the differences.  Inquire of the other person what he is thinking, feeling, and intending to communicate, until that is clear.  If these things are still confusing, inquire into the reasons why the person is thinking, feeling, and intending as he is, until you understand the experiential and cultural background for the behaviors.  Do not act in response to the behaviors until you understand “where the other person is coming from” accurately.

7. Use the opportunity to understand the nature of the difference, and use that to revise or confirm what you believe.  Get the “big picture” regarding the other system of beliefs and how it compares with your current beliefs.  Decide which you think makes the most sense.  If the other system has features that seem more workable to you than those of your own system, consider integrating those into your beliefs.  This does not mean giving up your beliefs but improving them.  After all, “beliefs” are just that; they are not certainties.  It is not disloyal to your ancestors to improve on their belief systems; rather it is moving to ensure that their descendants will function in life even better.

8. Try to understand your feelings.  Check out why you are annoyed or angry.  Ask yourself if you have any actual reason or evidence for thinking that your way is better than that of others.  Check out whether you are feeling annoyed or angry because you really don’t know whether your way is actually any better.  Check out whether the observed difference is challenging some of your treasured ideals.

9. In the interest of future amity, revise your emotional reactions to the other person’s behavior in the light of what that person actually meant and intended, instead of in terms of the signals that you usually receive from those with whom you are familiar.  Next time you can respond differently and with less fear.

10. Use your opportunities to learn about human beings in greater depth.  Pay attention to the fact that all human beings have basically the same needs and motives (physical survival, somewhat pleasant life experience, the affirmation and support of others, raising offspring, feeling secure in life).  If we understand another person’s feelings and motives, we can empathically appreciate what he or she is doing, even if the behaviors are very different from what we are used to.  Travel, reading, and classes on other cultures and religions are also good ways of doing this.

11. Be interested in ways that others do things that are actually better than how we do them!  We may be able to have better lives and contribute to greater worldwide similarity by adopting some customs and procedures from other groups.

12. Do not support political appeals to hatred or violence toward those who are different simply because their difference is threatening or offensive.  These issues are capable of non-violent and understanding solutions.