(About a 7 minute read)
Almost immediately following World War II, and American firm was hired to poll the Japanese public on several issues, mostly — as I recall now — regarding the occupation and new constitution. It was the first time the Japanese public had ever been polled.
The firm soon discovered an unexpected problem. The Japanese people didn’t know how to answer questions about what they personally believed.
In Japan at the time, belief was not nearly as important a thing as it was for most Westerners — who had, after all, been raised in a culture in which the predominant religion perceived belief to be a deciding factor between spending eternity in heaven or in hell.
To the Japanese, however, belief — whatever else it might be — was not something you necessarily identified with as “you” or as something belonging to you.
More passionless than asphalt is the heart
Of someone who loves their partner,
But who has caged them,
Clipped their wings so they cannot fly.
More passionate than fire is the heart
Of someone who loves their partner,
And whose partner is a free spirit,
Who soars perhaps even never to return.
Any police officer can tell you that, if there are 20 witnesses to an event, there will be at least a dozen versions of what happened. We humans are often notoriously poor observers, especially of the unexpected.
By nearly all accounts, mystical experiences are among the most unexpected events in life. Even if the experience itself is carefully cultivated, its content tends to be astonishing. And yet some us who study mystics and their accounts expect every mystic to be a competent observer.
When we note that one mystic differs from another in what they conclude about their experience — say by either believing or not believing it was an experience of deity — our instinct is to look for cultural reasons why there is such a difference.
Perhaps we should first ask ourselves how competent of an observer the mystics were.
There was a time in my life when I was quite young that I thought my problems — along with my suffering from them — made me special. It is curious how the ego will cling to anything to make itself special, unique.
The other day, I was talking with a friend about two mutual acquaintances. We decided they had in common a tendency to both ask for advice and then find numerous excuses — many of them shallow or bogus — to reject the advice. Perhaps they merely wanted to vent after all?
But going a bit deeper into it, my friend and I came to suspect that the two individuals also shared a common belief that their problems — and the suffering they caused them — made them special. Hence, their reluctance to solve their problems, and their clinging to even bogus excuses to avoid solving them.
I guess I was not special for thinking I was special because of my problems after all.
Pew has done an alarming poll of 5,035 US adults on their ability to tell the difference between fact and opinion. They found that, while most Americans could get a majority of the questions right, Americans as a group are little better at telling the difference between fact and opinion than if they were randomly guessing.
I think we live in a age in which most people here (and perhaps increasingly abroad) lack basic critical reasoning skills. Perhaps this is another manifestation of that?
But what most alarms me is not the lack of such skills, it’s the apathy towards developing them. They really are not that hard to develop, once you get into the swing of them. Are people intellectually lazy today? I think it’s more like they are ignorant of the need to cultivate these things.
For most of us, one of the most exquisite pleasures of life is to form an emotionally intimate bond with someone of the other sex. I once read of a poll that said most mixed-sex partners think of their partners as their best friends.
Most days, I think it must simply be a fact that most of us would not form such intimate bonds if it were not for sex. But this is what I don’t get — what I have never understood — how could recognizing that fact — if it were indeed true — in any way cheapen or lessen the value of the bond, or our appreciation of it?
I hear that sort of thinking fairly often. Knowledge — usually scientific knowledge — destroys either the value of something to us, or our appreciation of it, or both. But if we knew, for instance, that love was a neurochemical reaction inside our brain, should that make love any less valuable to us? Should it make it any less of a miracle?
Sindhuja Manohar has put up a beautiful post on her blog about the lessons she learned about how everyday civilities create a sense of community. She’s right, of course. The politicians, preachers, and pundits can declare we live in communities all they want, but the real test of a community is often whether the cashier at your local store strikes up a pleasant conversation with perfect strangers as they are ringing up their purchases.
In my opinion, if you don’t have at least that much happening, then you might still have a community of sorts, but not one in which people are likely to feel deeply connected.
I’ve seen studies on the importance to our mental health and well-being of good relationships with your close family and friends. Some studies even say you might live longer if you have good quality relationships with those folks. But I wonder if something similar isn’t also true of whether you feel connected with — and even perhaps supported by — the other people in your community.
Growing up in my small, largely rural community, I could pretty much count on people stopping to help me if my car broke down, or had a flat. As a kid, my mother could count on other people to keep an eye on me as I roamed about the town and nearby countryside. When I became a young man, I had no desire to stay in the town, but I knew if I did, a dozen or more people would busy themselves hunting down good job opportunities for me.
Wouldn’t that sort of thing have had some impact on my mental health and sense of well-being? I felt it did.
Is willful stupidity really willful? I have long thought it was. I have blamed people for being “dumber than they need to be” because I thought it was a choice.
But I have recently been thinking. Who would really want to be an idiot? Who wills to be the village idiot?
We often take satisfaction in thinking someone is morally to blame for something. Especially in telling anyone who will listen to us that someone is morally to blame for something. But why is that?
I think part of it must be that it makes us feel superior. There might be something else involved too, but that seems to me part of it. Have you noticed, though? The satisfaction is fleeting and only briefly relieves our frustration or upset with the person.
Indeed, it seems to me to actually cause or enhance our frustration or upset.
So I’m wondering tonight if placing blame isn’t like hating — that is, it burns you more than anyone else?