Last fall, my son and I visited colleges. While waiting for the Haverford tour, we browsed in the bookstore and I purchased Brian Greene’s book “The Elegant Universe.” Over time, I read the book and his other book “The Fabric of the Cosmos” and discussed them with my family and friends. Very cool books. The conversations exposed questions both about concepts in the books and about ourselves. For me, Greene’s descriptions of things such as the shapes of parallel universes were wild; they fascinated me and left me wanting to know more. For others, the concepts were too much to handle. They preferred simpler models, those which are more observable in everyday life. It seemed to me that the essence of the conversations (and sometimes arguments) was always the same: how do we, as we live in this universe as participants, truly observe what’s around us? At the time, I concluded that we observe our world through seven senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, experience and intuition. However, I was nagged by the notion there was something still more basic.
This morning I engaged in a brief email exchange with my 13-year old stepdaughter. Silly, really. I was working at home in the den and she was using a computer 20 steps away in the family room. She had passed along one of those chain-mail quizzes: what’s under your bed, who was the last person you kissed, that sort of thing. I sent back a question about a car she wrote that she thought was cool. Her response was brief, but at the bottom of her email was written the question “If I am not ashamed of who I am, is that a crime?”
As I thought about whether and how to answer her question, I found myself rehashing whether there was something more basic than our senses. It may seem there is no logical connection between the two questions, but in my mind, things began to tie together.
I told my stepdaughter that it’s not a crime to not be ashamed of who you are, especially if you truly know yourself. Life is change and change can be good, bad or neither. Everything: people, places, even things about yourself can seem to change throughout a lifetime. To balance oneself in this sea of change, to have something to hold on to, one must have a point of reference. That point of reference is one’s knowledge of oneself. And with that the connection was made.
This I believe: In order to gain some understanding of the universe around us we must start by knowing ourselves, each of us individually. That is not some metaphysical or psychological babble, I just believe it to be a simple truth. My blue might not be your blue, exactly, but if it’s close enough that we can both call it blue then maybe we can agree that the sky is blue. All the rest just flows from there.
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