When I was in my teens, I read in a book by the philosopher, Walter Kaufmann, of a study done by a couple of political scientists. The scientists discovered that most people have arrived at their core political beliefs by the age of 18, and will not for the most part change their core beliefs afterwards.
Those findings riled up Kaufmann, who was simply unable to believe that anyone who went through life with an unchanging set of core opinions was paying proper attention to the world around them.
As for myself, reading of that study both frightened me and left me tearful.
I was a year or two from turning 18, and — to be quite blunt about it — I hated myself with passion and I hated myself to the point the days were a chore. So, perhaps you can understand how I felt chased by the study’s findings, as if the findings were some kind of spiritual hounds.
If the study was right, then wouldn’t my future be suffocating? I felt then a sorrowful fear of living much longer if that happened — if I ceased to learn anything important beyond what I already knew; if from 18 on I never could change; if the person I was then would always be me.
Perhaps for the first time in my life I tasted the notion life could go catastrophically wrong for me, for even though I hated myself back then, I yet always imagined I would get better.
Despite those negative feelings — or perhaps precisely because of them — the study inspired me through out my university years to keep an open mind to the new ideas I was encountering in the sciences and humanities. Certainly, it wasn’t the only reason I managed to keep an open mind, but I thought about that study countless times in those years. Or more on the mark, I thought about the idea it had introduced me to — the frightening idea we can ossify.
I’ve gone through so many changes since 18 that I don’t worry at all anymore about living a life frozen into stone. It can even at times seem funny to me now I once long ago spent a tearful afternoon on my bed because I had just then learned people — most people — will, in some psychological sense, seize up early on in their lives.
I have also learned, though, we all of us have our demons.
That was once one of mine. What’s one of yours?