She used to say, “Sometimes a coin has more than two sides.” I never gave much thought to that adage until much later. As I observed human behavior I noticed that most humans consciously or unconsciously pick a side without thoughtful consideration of the other[s]. In doing so, whenever defense of another side is presented, humans often become defensive or they close their mind. Sometimes they do this as if acceptance or even acknowledgment of the contradiction of their particular view would rip the very fabric of the time-space continuum resulting in the cataclysmic destruction of the universe.

In the movie, “A Few Good Men”, actor Jack Nicholson shouted in court, “You can’t handle the truth”. To that, I say, most human can’t handle contradictions. Please note what Napoleon Bonaparte stated: “I am not angered when contradicted; I seek to be enlightened.” Then there was Ralph Waldo Emerson who asserted: “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” As you can see, Napoleon viewed contradiction of what he said or believed as an opportunity to learn and Emerson did not take contradictions to his views personally. In those regards, most people are neither Napoleon nor Emerson.

The subject matter in which there may be contradictions is essentially irrelevant. No matter the subject, be it religion, politics, pets, family, shoes, flowers, entertainers, movies, music, weather, rainbows, female/males relationships, soap, sports, the meaning of life or the meaning of paper towels – most humans are uncomfortable when their opinions, views or beliefs are contradicted. There seems to be this almost innate or near-genetic need to have one’s position verified or affirmed as opposed to being challenged. There is often a knee-jerk resistance to even look at a possible different side of the coin.

I have lived and paid attention long enough to have developed my own ethos, namely: There is no idea or belief I so dearly cherish so as to shield it from rigorous scrutiny or thoughtful challenge. There is no idea or belief I esteem so highly that I will not alter it or abandon it – sacrifice it in favor of standing even closer to the truth. Stated more succinctly, I hate being wrong; I detest it. In fact, I abhor being wrong so much that I desperately want to know when I am so that I can stop. And if it turns out that I am not wrong, I am still better for it having experienced a challenge to my position.

To be certain, each of us is flawed, frail and sometimes foul in our own peculiar ways; there are no exceptions – not one. But here I speak of the common reaction to contradictions – the comfort found in remaining unenlightened, in the dark or even stupid. Or the childish reaction to blindly defend even the indefensible. Either phenomena I utterly disdain. To be wrong makes one no less a person than the one who is right or to be right makes one no more a person than the one who is wrong if and only if one respects contradictions.

Published in: on February 14, 2016 at 11:09 PM  Comments (1)  
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Penciled-In Thoughts On Paper Minds

One of the most fascinating things about the human mind is that in an important respect it is like paper, especially in the beginning. Like paper, others can write on it (only in pencil), and like paper, the human can decide whether to believe what is written on it or whether to erase it. Most of the writing, however, is never erased.

Humans can be led to believe almost anything. This is especially true if the culture they are born into present certain ideas and notions as true or if they hear something often enough and if the stupidity/ignorance is presented in an organized fashion.

For example: Humans used to believe that diseases were caused by the “gods” because someone wrote that on their minds. Many humans used to (some still do) believe that women were intellectually inferior to men because someone wrote that on their minds. Currently, there are also humans who believe that if the young boys in their village swallow the ejaculate of the older males, their passage into manhood is assured [the Sambians]. They believe that because someone wrote that on their minds. Furthermore, some humans believe Blacks are intellectually inferior vis à vis Whites, and other humans believe that if a woman is raped, her family should kill her because shame is brought on the family. In short, humans will believe almost anything written on their minds and the list of examples (from the bizarre to the sublime) is endless.

Obviously, the more people who believe what is written on their minds, the easier it is to get younger people to accept what is written without fear of the beliefs being erased. Thus, the list of hypothetical beliefs noted below is no more shocking than what was once or is still believed:

• In order to avoid burning in hell after dying, the number 23 must be branded on a child’s forehead if the child is younger than eight (unless the child is a twin, then she should be branded only if she is older than eight).

• Having sex standing up is protection against contracting an STD.

• Spanking a groom and bride on their bare buttocks with a paddle made of pine wood during the marriage ceremony will guarantee a long and happy marriage.

• Running around the outside of the place of worship three times while naked, in the dark, will ensure forgiveness of the sin of fornication.

• Eating snakes is a sin. Eating squirrels once a year is a requirement for redemption.

• Drinking horse urine reduces fevers. Adding a cup full of dog urine to your bath water brings good luck.

• If a woman gets pregnant after eating the root of a certain plant, she has been unfaithful.

• People with gray eyes are more intelligent that those whose eyes are blue or green, and there is no such thing as brown eyes.

• A long tongue portends a long but unhappy life.

The list of hypothetical beliefs as represented above can extend ad infinitum, and for each one, there is a comparably asinine or ridiculous one that was once believed or is still believed. Humans can believe almost anything because they seldom challenge or even question what is written on their minds by their families and the other parts of society. The idea of erasing a belief is as foreign to many as is the idea of cutting off one of their feet. No ideas or beliefs are written in stone; most people simply do not want to erase the penciled in thoughts of their paper minds. If only they lived and breathed the following advice then the stupid would not be so stupid and the wise would be wiser:

“There is no idea or belief I so dearly cherish so as to shield it from rigorous scrutiny or thoughtful challenge. There is no idea or belief I esteem so highly that I will not alter it or abandon it – sacrifice it in favor of standing even closer to the truth.”

Published in: on January 5, 2016 at 5:33 AM  Leave a Comment  
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A Clash of Convictions

Convictions usually flow from beliefs, and beliefs are often embraced without much scrutiny or examination. Very few beliefs are subjected to a rigorous series of stress tests as a way of verifying their logic or veracity. But whether a conviction is rooted in tradition [usually unexamined] or is the product of dispassionate and arduous inquiry, they will often find themselves in the same space at the same time with other convictions; a clash is inevitable.

When convictions clash there will be a cost — sometimes heavy, sometimes benign or innocuous but there will be a cost nonetheless. This cost can claim not only the participants as its victims but any third-party observers who because of circumstances stand too close. I submit that my grandchildren are third-party victims in a clash of convictions.

When I was a teenager, I was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Before the age of 19, I married another Jehovah’s Witness and we had four children whom we raised as such. After 20 years of preaching from door to door, conducting Bible Studies, attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall and so forth, I submitted a letter to Jehovah’s Witnesses in which I denounced them. I had finally stopped ignoring my gnawing reservations and put my beliefs to the test; they failed. [That was in December of 1985.] Rejecting those beliefs, however, rendered me an “apostate,” an absolute heretic. Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, that was the worst sin of all and required that all Jehovah’s Witnesses ostracize me. And even though, I never tried to dissuade or convince anyone, I was declared an untouchable.  They were not to even acknowledge my presence. My children, as practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses, were to do likewise.

But for years, they did not; they would talk to me and even let me visit with my grandchildren. As the years piled up, however, they became less accepting of me due to the hardening of the policies regarding persons of my ilk that were handed down by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Then, I made matters worse; I drove the nail into the coffin. I wrote a book of essays. Twenty-three of the 116 essays were an indictment against religion [not just Jehovah’s Witnesses but all religions]. Immediately thereafter, my children [all but my youngest son who had stopped being a Jehovah’s Witness] severed all ties with me and by default, I cannot see my grandchildren either. This despite the fact that I have never — not once — spoken to my children about why I rejected their religion and what I now believe. Nonetheless, I was deemed a pariah and subsequently scorned by judicial decree.

So, there is the clash of convictions, and my grandchildren are “collateral damage.” I miss them, and they will likely grow up not knowing me. That fact is a source of great pain for me. My children and I are at an impasse. If I “repented” and asked for forgiveness and sought to return to the “flock,” I could see my children and grandchildren. Or, if my children ignored the decrees issued by their religious leaders and embraced me anyway, I could see my grandchildren.

Persons who maintain and live by their convictions are often held in elevated esteem. They are often lauded for being true to them, and to violate those convictions would be seen as hypocritical or craven even if the price for doing so were extreme. The strength of one’s conviction is in direct proportion to the cost one is willing to pay for adherence. To put it honestly, being true to my conviction means more to me than being accepted by my children and my children being true to their conviction means more to them than talking to me.

How ironic. I raised my children to be what they are and now what they are comes to a clash of convictions. Nevertheless, what is even more painful than being rejected is being rejected with ease. I truly understand my children’s adherence to their convictions [they probably do not understand mine]; that is painful enough. I can only hope that ostracizing me because I am an “apostate” is not easy for them. I can only hope that this clash of convictions is hurting them as much as it is hurting me. I can only hope that they too see the price for upholding these convictions is exorbitant. If they do not, then my pain is twice felt and my conviction twice costly.

Published in: on April 12, 2012 at 3:33 AM  Leave a Comment  
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