I believe that understanding is the most reasonable path to personal fulfillment and the most critical approach to a stable society.
Understanding is not easy. It is not simple. It takes hard work.
Understanding what you ‘know’ means understanding how much you do not know. It means living in a world of probability and uncertainty, not possibility or certitude. It requires a scrutiny of the sources of your knowledge and its synthesis.
What brought me to write about these things in this way was a letter I received describing a stunningly narrow perspective that prescribed harm to multiple groups of ‘others’. It was the power in those disturbing words that brought me to conjure the following metaphor while wandering through the forest with Tascha, my Siberian Husky/Malamute companion. It describes the range of knowledge and understanding with which people come to form their views.
“There are many who look at the forest
and think that they know the forest
by the blur of its outline.
There are others who know a few trees
and think that that’s enough to know the forest.
Some know all of the trees.
These are the experts.
There are remarkably few who understand
that the forest is more than trees,
And fewer still who are able to synthesize a reasoned view,
from their vast but limited knowledge of what the forest presents.
All people think through a prism of accumulated prejudice intimately coupled to their ‘feelings’ about their experiences. If your perspective is built upon bigotry and certainty of your prejudice, as opposed to a healthy skepticism of ALL of your perspectives, then the potential for understanding is thwarted.
Ideologies are built from the certitude of bigotry and prejudice. The extremes purport a utopia, where in reality, harm and benefit are skewed to benefit some while harming others. To think ideologically is natural, easier, and more comfortable. When you hold a position based on ideology it is very hard to dislodge that position with empirical evidence. To acquire the skill of evidence-based thinking requires training, the desire for understanding based on knowable realities, and extraordinary time and effort. It is natural to take the easy way out, and so most do, leaving us with a population ill equipped to understand, much less analyze the complexities of an ever increasing unnatural environment created by humanity itself.
‘I am right, you are wrong’ is not a way to develop a reasoned world-view. There is no objective right or wrong with regard to most of the ideologies that a reasonable person might adopt. There are only consequences, both good and bad, from any and all that you may choose. Somewhere between the extremes of ideologies is a potential for a greater good to be maximized.
The road to peace and stability lies not merely in understanding others, but also, more importantly, understanding the self. I believe that understanding and doing good with that understanding will shift the balance toward fulfillment of the individual, social stability, and a greater good.
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