The Death Penalty: Why Does it Trigger Such Strong Emotions?

The Death Penalty: Why Does it Trigger Such Strong Emotions?

Certain hot-button issues trigger strong emotions for us, the second they’re brought up. Whether we’re talking about racism, abortion, or today’s topic, the death penalty, the emotions boil up to the surface as soon as the conversation starts. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Emotions help guide our opinions and keep us true to who we are at our cores. But they can also blind us to the merits of contradicting viewpoints.

In a recent volume of Psychology of Entrepreneurship, my team and I explored the controversial topic of the death penalty. Now, I went into this with a very strong opinion. I think putting someone to death, for causing death, is blatantly hypocritical. And I’ll admit, I pretty much still feel that away. However, it was incredibly enlightening for me to explore the differing opinions on this topic. And I walked away with a deeper understanding of the other side.

The Audacity of Assumption

A lot of times, when we go into touchy subjects like this, we assume we know why the other side feels the way they do. We think “Well they’re missing this really important bit of information that only I understand in this capacity.” And yes, I’m making that sound arrogant for a reason. Because it is arrogant. It’s arrogant to assume we know what kind of life experience shaped the perspective of someone else.

There are so many factors that go into forming an opinion. Sometimes they’re lazy opinions. We just feel a certain way about a certain thing because that’s how our parents feel, or that’s how our friends feel. We’ve never bothered to do our own digging, our own research. And I’m guilty of that myself. Not so much anymore, hopefully. I definitely make an effort to catch myself when I’m spouting lazy opinions.

The point is, we really need to sink into other people’s perspectives. As Harper Lee said through the words of Atticus Finch, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” I realize we can’t do that for everyone, but with social media and YouTube, you almost have to be willfully ignorant these days. It’s impossible not to explore others’ points of view.

Being Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

In this volume on the death penalty, I referenced an amazing video done by Middle Ground. I highly recommend spending 16 minutes of your life watching it. In this video, six people, three for the death penalty and three against it, discussed their reasoning. Among their incredible insights were things like rape and child molesting. All these topics make us uncomfortable, for good reason. But as I listened to these brilliant, regular people work out their thoughts out loud, I realised how often I avoid these types of conversations in real life. Well, for the most part.

Why do we do that? Why do we avoid certain topics that obviously are so incredibly influential in how others shape their world views and opinions? I think we need to work harder at being comfortable with being uncomfortable, especially when we interact with others that disagree with us. So how do we do that? Perhaps we could start small. When you find yourself inwardly cringing or feel a strong urge to change the subject when someone brings up a certain topic, reject your instincts.

Ask yourself why it’s evoking such a strong reaction. And then speak up. Ask questions. Ask how they’ve come to those conclusions. Ask what events in their life, if they’re comfortable sharing with you, caused them to come to these conclusions. You may be surprised at what the conversation leads to. Maybe you’ll still have the same opinions that you had before the conversation. But you never know, your world might just become a bit bigger.

To challenge your own preconceived opinions on the death penalty, check out Volume 60 of Pyschology of Entrenpreneurship.

Author: Ronsley Vaz

Ronsley is the founder & chief day dreamer at AMPLIFY. He is an author, speaker & serial entrepreneur.

He has a Masters’ degree in Software Engineering and an MBA in Psychology and Leadership. He is known as the creator of We Are Podcast – the first Podcasting Conference in the Southern Hemisphere, and the host of The Bond Appetit Podcast and Should I Start a Podcast. He has an audience of over 3 million in 133 countries.

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