Tuesday, April 26, 2016

I Am Right,You Are Wrong

Human beings love to argue, to fight about ideas of what is right and what is wrong. Or more accurately, WHO is right and WHO is wrong. Certainly there are infrequent times when people respectfully listen to one another, debating points of view only to sharpen one’s understandings rather than to undercut one another. But most conversations are verbal sporting events whose objective is to win – to dominate in the jousting of ideas and to belittle and overwhelm contrary opinions. The end results of such contests are very little advancement of informed knowledge, minimal progress in the advancement of interactions within societies, and the cause of much needless division and conflict in the world. Argument perpetuates and reinforces the stagnation of thought.

The human need to be “Right” about something – or about nearly everything – is another illustration of our emotional fragility. Our need to be Right is the mirror image of our abhorrence of being “Wrong.” That fear of being Wrong is the guard that keeps us imprisoned away from our own creativity, from discovering our own truly original thought. Certainty is the archenemy of truly creative thinking.

If we are honest with ourselves, most of what we believe – and argue vociferously to defend – is not what we truly believe anyway. Most of our supposed well-thought out beliefs are actually pasted-on opinions we borrow from others – parents, teachers, mentors, friends, colleagues, opinion-makers – devoid of our own direct experiences and encounters. We have opinions about people we have never met, or only know peripherally; cultures we have never visited nor engaged; religions we have never studied or shared their ritual; lifestyles we have never encountered; moral principles we have never really questioned; starkly minimalistic living conditions we have never experienced. Most of the people we spend time with are people who look like us, speak like us, echo the same opinions as us. We nourish our beliefs by our immersion within the sameness of a familiar community of look-alikes.

We sincerely think that our beliefs are framed within great absolute and universal Truths. Yet the first Truth is that our beliefs reflect, and are limited by, our personal perspective. It is a perspective built upon our individual life experiences, encounters, and role models, experiences far different than others. If our perspective has been gleaned from a wide breadth of exposures, then our beliefs will similarly incorporate a breadth of thinking and openness to considering and finding accommodation with contrary opinions. If our exposure has been narrow, then our beliefs will likewise be narrow, closed to contrary opinions.

We think that our beliefs are logically derived and thought through, reflecting our superior human intellect. Yet the quality of our logical thinking rises or falls based upon the comprehensiveness of our inputs. If our inputs are limited, our conclusions necessarily will be limited. We believe our thinking creates our perspective. In reality, our preexisting perspective from our experiences create our thinking, and thereby our beliefs. That self-fulfilling cycle should make us very cautious about what we think we believe is right.

Arguing steadfastly about who is Right exposes the underlying insecurity of our beliefs. The weaker our confidence in our beliefs, the harder we fight to affirm them onto others. But if one is truly Right, it is not conditioned by how many also believe it. (Rightness may love company, but thousands of slaves and slave owners in America never made slavery Right.) Realistically, most of what we presume the need to agree upon requires no agreement at all, versus making a commitment to live compatibly within a diverse community of opinions. It might be better to spend less time judging the wrongness of others, and instead expend more effort living a better version of our own rightness.

Listening openly to other perspectives – other life situations and experiences far different than our own – puts the genuine pursuit of knowledge and character ahead of our false need to be Right. It is our acceptance of our continuing ignorance that keeps us learning, not our certitude.

©  2016   Randy Bell              www.OurSpiritualWay.blogspot.com

Monday, April 4, 2016

Our Untold Stories

Years ago, I read an article about an elderly man who died alone in his long-term city apartment. When people came to empty out his things, they discovered stacks and stacks of handwritten journals containing the names of all the people he had been introduced to over the course of his life. No details, no narrative. Just the names and dates documenting the people he had encountered sufficiently to learn their names. The journals served as memory. But they also reminded him of the breadth of his life, those who had influenced his life experiences in both large and small ways. It was a personal form of acknowledgment for all those human connections in spite of what may have appeared on surface to be a life lived alone.

Over the course of our lifetime, we have myriad experiences, seemingly just in the course of one day. Experiences of people, places, events, visuals, sounds, tastes, movement, ideas, and role situations. We typically attach to each of these experiences some adjective(s) to denote our relationship to them: good, bad, delightful, horrible, memorable, forgettable, etc. Some of these stay in our conscious awareness constantly; others disappear into the deep recesses of “forgotten” memories, accessible only with immense effort and perhaps emotional courage.

We interpret those experiences based upon what we have been pre-taught to see, as well as conclusions we have cumulatively drawn – whether they are truly accurate or not. Taken together, these interpretations and conclusions make up our life story. A story filled with gaps, faint images defying our attempts of definition, and misinterpretations due to our limited awareness of their broader context and circumstances and the shortcomings of our limited maturity and capacity to understand. Our story is not our Self; it is only that which our  Self has experienced – an important distinction often lost on us.

My experiences – of family makeup and circumstances, of place and geography, of influences of friends and teachers, of directions followed and sights seen – are far different from yours. My life story is unlike any other person’s story; your story is equally unique and personal from mine. Each person we meet has an extensive, untold story that will never to be revealed to us, a story likely never even to be fully revealed to him-/herself.

It would likely take another lifetime just to tell you the complete story of my life – if I could even remember that entire story.  Any autobiography I could write would, at best, be only an excerpt, a sampling, a slice which perhaps hints at a whole. Many feel a need to tell their story more from a desire to be understood than for the telling itself. But what does it actually matter if others hear our story and understand or not? What elements will we choose to select out of the vast database of our experiences? Which ones actually reveal us, and which serve to hide and protect the unseen, the unrevealed? Will such a telling alter the course of our future experiences, or simply reinforce the place in which we are already stuck?

We reflexively make judgments about the people we encounter, based upon an impression we quickly and instinctively form. That judgment is likely based upon a momentary sliver of that person’s story, a deep, vast story we will never be privileged to hear. Nor can we ever fully comprehend how and why we came together at our particular moment in time – though we may have our suspicions.

That old gentleman’s journals recorded no judgments, no conclusions about the people he encountered. Maybe in our encounters we might show someone a similar cautionary respect for their untold story. Perhaps a simple acknowledgment that we passed through and shared a moment in our lives, for a brief instant or more, is just enough before we move on.

©   2016   Randy Bell                         www.OurSpiritualWay.blogspot.com