What are personal circumstances? From a general context, and without regarding literal definition, they are everything we hear, see, feel, and do; they are a collection of positive and negative life experiences. They are the same life experiences used to determine if we qualify for anything we want to do, whether it be playing on the soccer team, getting a job at a law firm, or even providing new insight on a topic being discussed in class. How?
Well, an example that came to mind was acquiring information on a crisis in Kenya by asking a Kenyan compared to asking an online researcher. Both will bring factual evidence but the information being proposed by the Kenyan is naturally more credible as he is a primary source. Although, the information provided by the online researcher would still be useful, most would naturally drift to that being provided by the Kenyan as he/she would be known to have experience.
This makes me wonder how past experiences and beliefs of individuals affect credible others find them to be. Because when it comes to credibility, past experiences are important. The individual's social status, job, age, and other things matter as there's no other way to judge them than with information about their past actions. However, this isn't true. Such things only matter when one’s beliefs go against the norm of different groups in a particular society, as was the life experience for young Alex Malarkey.
In 2004, Alex was in the car when his father had an accident. Unfortunately, it placed him in a coma. Alex emerged from the coma as a quadriplegic. The injured boy began telling family and friends about traveling to heaven and meeting Jesus. In 2010, “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” was published by Tyndale House, a publisher of Christian books and A New York Times Best Sellers for months. It explained Alex’s near-death experience and what he saw during his coma. Christians all over the world believed him because it aligned with their ideology of life after death. Although, a lot of people, as well as Christians, had doubts about his claims, who would want to argue with a little boy about whether his experiences are true or false? Alex Malarkey later confessed in 2015, that the whole story was false. He explained that he did this because he thought it would get him attention, which it did. The truth, however, is that he lied for years, and people believed them, but why? Alex never gave any new and insightful information about Heaven, or the afterlife, and that alone is what sold it, his information simply aligned with what we already believed. If Alex told the world something unexpected about life after death, people would not have believed him and would have had many questions for him.
However, the treatment Alexander Vindman received was different. On October 29, 2019, Vindman, a War Veteran, testified against Donald Trump in the impeachment inquiry. Being a witness of the call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine, he explained his feelings towards their conversation and why it bothered him. The information he offered was valid because of his experiences and position in the US army. However, Trump defenders understood this and could not let it pass so they used his experiences against him. Vindman, although a US citizen initially moved from Russia at a very young age. And Trump defenders jumped at the opportunity to vilify him. They did this because his opinions on Trump did not align with theirs, and since this was the case they needed a reason to discredit him and his opinions. If his opinions did support Trump, Trump supporters would have commended him and people who don’t support Trump would have brought up the fact that he was originally from Russia. People against Trump would have done the same thing. It’s not an act good or bad people take on, but simply anyone defending their faith.
As for Alex Malarkey, who claimed to have seen God and Satan, he later confessed in 2015, that the whole story was false. He explained that he did this because he thought it would get him attention, which it did. The truth, however, is that the Malarkeys lied and stood by it for years, and people believed them, but why? The Malarkeys never gave new and insightful information on the Christian beliefs on the afterlife, they only verified what was already proposed on the afterlife and people bought it. Perhaps people believed Alex because religion is a norm in society, whether one believes in it or not, so no one would have wanted to argue with him on his own experiences, so those who didn’t think him remained speechless, and those who did hail him. And as for Vindman, some people believed him, because the information he offered was useful, with his position and status as an advantage; however, some didn't believe him because he went against their beliefs.
Even though we don’t like to admit it, people who deviate from what is standard, normal, or simply go against our individual beliefs can sometimes make us feel uncomfortable. Why? Because we hold our beliefs to be accurate and correct, and although we like to think we respect that of others, we unconsciously don’t. But imagine if their beliefs were true and correct, as much as ours. We'd think of theirs to be like ours.
An example is how people would react to Mark Zuckerberg if he gave a presentation on how to start a successful business; however, the only thing they’d know about him is the fact that he dropped out of college to follow his dream. In such a situation there would be people who would come into the presentation willing to learn something about the topic, even knowing that Zuckerberg dropped out of college. And there also would be some people who come in with no intention of learning anything. Why? They might not expect much of an individual who did not finish college. This is because of the convention, that one needs to go to college to be successful in any field of choice. Now if they were told that Zuckerberg co-founded and is leading Facebook, while also knowing he dropped out of Harvard. Those who came without the intention of learning would want to learn something too and even though Zuckerberg dropped out of college, it wouldn’t affect how they viewed him because his success overshadows his past actions. But if his company fails or crashes a few years later, some would say he should have just stayed in school. But what if Mark Zuckerberg, a well-known individual, vilified religious people while being the co-founder of Facebook? How would people reply? Would his current position still matter?
A good example of a well-known individual whose beliefs led people to think otherwise of him was Richard Dawkins, a famous evolutionary biologist, English Ethologist, and author. He was known as a genius and was at his peak in the 70s but in 2006, he released a 350 book called The God Delusion, the book bashed religious people for having faith. So what do you think every religious person thought of him after that? His opinions simply stopped mattering to a lot of people. This is unfortunate as he was well known and now, not so much. One’s credibility can be greatly affected when their beliefs and opinions don’t line up with those of the majority.
People’s ability to believe what one says solely depends on their preconceived beliefs on the topic beforehand, and if the informer’s beliefs are against theirs, they start to consider the person's background, this is when the informer’s experiences matter. This is why one’s personal experiences and beliefs matter when it comes to credibility. And it happens to all of us. Our ideologies are what decide what we believe. But since ideologies are always different, in different people, it is good to consider what people are saying even though it might not align with your beliefs. So anytime an individual proposes information, if it makes sense to you, it's still worth considering if it is true, or if it is false.
A few years ago when I heard of Malarkey’s experiences, I instantly believed what he said because I had been hearing about life after death in church and in my family, so I naturally believed it. However, if I heard such a phenomenon now, I would be hesitant before actually believing it, because I would consider why it might be false. But I wouldn’t have done such without my life experiences, which helped me create my ideologies.
- Bakewell, Joan. “Review: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.” The Guardian, Guardian News, and Media, 23 Sept. 2006, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/sep/23/scienceandnature.richarddawkins.
- Dean, Michelle. “The Boy Who Didn't Come Back from Heaven: Inside a Bestseller's 'Deception'.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 Jan. 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/21/boy-who-came-back-from-heaven-alex-malarkey.
- Phillips, Amber. “Analysis | Who Is Alexander Vindman and Why Does His Public Testimony Matter?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 19 Nov. 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/11/18/who-is-alexander-vindman-why-does-his-public-testimony-matter/.
- Swenson, Kyle. “'The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven' Now Wants His Day in Court.” The Washington Postof Post of WP Company, 29 Apr. 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/04/11/the-boy-who-came-back-from-heaven-now-wants-his-day-in-court/.
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