About ten years ago, I had an epiphany of sorts. It dawned on me that, although I had made a few changes in my catalog of basic beliefs, most of my worldview, along with its attendant beliefs and convictions, I had inherited from my parents and the community in which I grew up. Was it really logical to assume that the belief system into which I was born was absolutely correct in every particular—that I had been blessed with the right ideas about everything (political, social, and religious) by accident of birth?
In a moment of unusual clarity, I had to admit that was not likely. I began to ask myself, “Is it possible you are wrong about some important matters and that what you have been taught may not be as balanced and comprehensive as you like to think? Is it possible that some of what you have come to accept as indisputable reality may really be the product of some underlying prejudices of which your well-meaning teachers were not even aware?”
For the first time in my life, I began—very slowly at first—to try to understand beliefs and convictions and positions with which I disagreed from the point of view of people who held them. I adopted the principle that I would not criticize a view or belief or policy different from mine until I could explain it in terms that would satisfy its adherents and advocates. In the process, I have been learning a great deal—about how my “opponents” think, about the strengths of others’ views and the weaknesses in some of my own, about myself and my own prejudices. I am learning that many people with whom I differ are just as serious-minded as I am, and some are even smarter.
I am less certain about a lot of things than I used to be, and I am really okay with that. I have learned to appreciate people with whom I have very serious differences of opinion about some fundamental truths. I have always admired people of principle and convictions, and I still do, but I am no longer influenced by bluster and pontification, nor do I appreciate narrowmindedness, self-righteousness, or cynicism.
Nobody is right about everything he or she believes. And, as much as it pains me to say this, in my earlier years, I was right about a lot less than I thought. Over the past decade, my change of perspective has resulted in the loss of some friends and acquaintances who believe I have gone over to the dark side. Those losses, however, have been more than compensated by new friends and a new sense of freedom in thought and practice.
I’m still affected by the opinions of others more than I like to admit, and I will be addressing that in a future blog post which I am calling “The Reason I Lie About What I Really Believe.” I felt I had to write this one first, however, as something of a preparation and foundation for that one.
The new perspective I have adopted is, in some respects, like venturing into water over my head. I’m not a great swimmer, but so far, with the encouragement of others who have also ventured into the deep end of the pool, I’ve managed to keep my head above water. And I’m getting stronger every day. So, come on in and join me in this quest. The water’s fine.