Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Things aren’t that easy…

       I’m amazed at the amount of people that think they are right. Like most of us, I spent a decent part of my Sunday being horrified by the stories people were recounting about the senseless tragedies that happened in Orlando over the past few days.  There are no words.  Watching some of the reactions got me thinking more about the first sentence above, which I’ve been pondering for some time.  It is truly amazing how many people think they are absolutely right about many things.  Obviously at times like this you hear more about gun control and what is wrong with people and everybody has a solution that can be boiled down to a slick sentence or a few bullet points and make it sound so easy.  Life is not that clear cut.  That was a rough thing for me to figure out.  There was a time where I felt like I had most of the world figured out.  I had a firm grasp on 80 - 85% of things in life, and there was maybe 10 % on either side of the spectrum that I wasn’t quite clear on.  You know, things like photosynthesis or what makes women’s purses so damned heavy.  Everything else I pretty much had a handle on.  Life was easy.  I had all the answers.  Then my world got turned upside down.  I was faced with divorce, and starting a life that was completely different than anything I had ever expected.  Up until that point I had built my life on being married, raising a family, and celebrating a 50th wedding anniversary just like my parents did.  That was one of those solid black and white things in my life.  Anything outside of that was failure.  Obviously this wasn’t true, and with time I came to see the complexities involved and realized what I had thought before was foolish.  There are many roads that lead to a successful family, just as there needs to be many roads that lead to a safer society.  So the question is how do we make all these people with the simplified beliefs and their pithy sayings realize those thoughts and ideas are foolish?
I’ve been sitting and staring at that last sentence for a few minutes now.  I’m laughing at imaging what some of the responses are.  I’m sure there are plenty of people that feel anger or any number of emotions when faced with the fact that their belief may be foolish.  The elephant in the room with this one is obviously religion.  How dare I call somebody’s religious beliefs foolish?  Well I’m not, depending on how hard you hold on to those beliefs.  Just for full disclosure, I was raised Catholic, and still believe we’ve got God and Jesus to thank for all that is around us.  That being said, I also believe that God likes religious fruits, not religious nuts.  I can’t take credit for that phrase, that came from a CCD teacher I had growing up.  I like it because it seems to embody the point I’m trying to make. Chances are you aren’t right, or at least not completely right.  I alway point to the story of The Tower of Babel.  There people began working together too well.  God decided he needed to spread people out and give them different languages.  Who’s to say he didn’t also give us different religions and that part was just left out?  Right there I gave enough reasonable doubt that our Hindi, Islamic, Jewish and whatever else friends are also correct. 
Now that we’ve got the religious aspect of the foolish thoughts out of the way, let me ask you a question. For this question you need to think of a belief you hold dear.  Something you wouldn’t consider to be in a grey area.  Take a second to think of something.  Now that you’ve got it, here is the question:  Can you think of any scenario where you’d condone acting exactly opposite of that belief?  Think hard.  For my example I used stealing.  I think stealing is wrong.  However if my children were hungry and I had no other means to put food on the table, I would steal it.  The possibility of me running out of other means is very slim, but in the scenario where I did run out, yes I would steal.  I’ve now come up with a scenario where that black and white thing in my life is a bit more grey.  Take what I believe to be the ultimate example, murder.  Whether it is right or not, I can come up with an example where I can justify it.  I’m also not alone there.  The Catholic church has gone back and forth on the topic of the death penalty a number of times.  With all of this being said, I think that you can see where I’m coming from when I say that absolute thoughts are foolish.
Right along with the foolishness of absolute thoughts is the desire to be right.  Most people really enjoy being right, myself included.  Who doesn’t like to feel that we’ve got all the answers and we’re the problem solver?  Do you see the problem here?  How can somebody have all the answers when most of the time the assumptions we’re making on the situation are completely false(foolish).  This is where the complexity of thought comes in.  There are no answers that can be boiled down to a simple sentence or a few quick bullet points.   Yet we end up electing our politicians based on who has the best sound bites.  No one has time to allow a candidate to sit down and explain a nuanced answer to a complex problem.  Now a days we’re either democrat or republican.  We’re either for gun rights or we think every single one should be taken away.  We believe our version of God is right and everybody else is wrong. As we discussed above, things simply aren’t black and white like that.  There needs to be room for detail.  There needs to be complex thought.  There needs to be disagreement and discussion.   I wrote a while back about wanting to disagree with people.  You can find that blog here(http://www.rebooten.com/2016/03/i-want-to-disagree-with-you.html)  I won’t rehash all of that, but it’s worth a read.  Discussion, intelligent nuanced thought, and civilized disagreement are the only things that are going to move us forward.
Hopefully by now I’ve got you at least considering the idea that long held beliefs may not be entirely accurate, and that developing simple solutions based on these beliefs are doomed to failure.  Where do we go from here?  My thought is that we begin by expecting more out of our children.  We ask them to challenge our ways of thinking.  We reward them for asking the tough questions and struggling to find answers.  We then begin to ask more out of our politicians, and work to find common ground.  Back to the gun example from above, even if you are the most ardent of the pro gun NRA, I believe that you can think of at least one person you’ve met in your life that should not be allowed to own a firearm.  We build from there.  We talk about the less politically charged topics in our day to day life and build consensus.  We talk about common sense and the greater good.  Disagreements are encouraged, resolution is sought, and we move on.  We let go of our need to be right and focus on our need to be kind.  We realize that if we all had all the answers, we’d be rich sitting in the Caribbean somewhere worrying about the ice meting in our drinks or something. That sounded bad, even if I were rich, I’d still care about this stuff, and I’d probably still be writing…

I could ramble on about things like this for quite a while, and truthfully if you’re still reading this, I’m pretty sure I owe you a beer, but here is what I hope you take away from all this: What are the beliefs you hold and what are the alternatives to those beliefs?  Also to what extent are you willing to go to in order to be right?  Is it worth it?  Can you think of an instance where you’ve given up the need to be right and sought to be kind?  Or better yet, where have you gone into a conversation feeling challenged in your thoughts and learned something?

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