we think we think for ourselves

“Beware, all too often we say what we hear others say. We think what we are told that we think. We see what we are permitted to see. Worse, we see what we are told that we see. Repetition and pride are the keys to this. To hear and to see even an obvious lie again and again and again, maybe to say it almost by reflex, and then to defend it because we have said it, and at last to embrace it because we’ve defended it.”

– An interview with Octavia Butler about Parable of the Talents.

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Wilson Bryan Key said in his book, Age of Manipulation, “We think we think for ourselves.” When I first read those words I protested them. Of course I think for myself, no one thinks for me, I’m free. Who was this man telling me I didn’t think for myself?

But the more I read and examined my existence, the more I realized that most of us do not think for ourselves. Even the most free minded person is free only within the context of the culture within which they’ve been raised. Basically, our notion of freedom is based on where we were raised. And, how we see our freedom, and how it translates into action is restricted. Even more profound, we are told what freedom is by the culture and the average person typically doesn’t question it. Whatever the culture teaches us, that is what many believe. There is very little, if anything, we can think of that was not taught to us by someone else. This is not to say that we should not learn from our predecessors’ no one wants to reinvent the wheel. But finding our own mind and own thoughts, ideas and beliefs is virtually impossible. The average person follows the herd over the cliff without looking down.

Can we think for ourselves by acquiring critical thinking skills? Even more, can we be honest with ourselves about why we believe the things we believe? Can we admit that most of what we think we know is not our own personal knowing through our own empirical examination, but someone else telling us a thing and we believing it? Can we admit that most of what we are given by our fellow human beings we are forced to trust? We often will believe so strongly and be in such denial of the empirical evidence we should be seeking, that we lean on notions of spirit to replace that which we should demand proof for. Don’t get me wrong, spirit and spirituality does not need to be abandoned, but it should not be the excuse to avoid examination of what we’ve been told is true.

Think about all the things you “know” or believe. And I do mean all. How many of them have you been able to empirically confirm? Sit with that for a minute. Try not to allow yourself to lapse into reaction. Meditate on all you’ve come to know from childhood, things about the human body, about the planet, about science, about history, about everything. How many of the things you’ve come to trust as true have you been able to confirm? Even through a friend of a friend?

The list of things we believe we know is long. But the list of confirmable things will begin to grow very short the more you examine your life from a place of honesty and no ego.

I can honestly say that of all the things I’ve learned over the years, the things I can empirically confirm barely make up 5% of my knowing. The majority of my so called “knowledge” I am forced to trust is from people who could possibly be lying, or also so steeped in belief that they believe what they are telling me is true. This realization is humbling. It has changed my perspective on life.

Butler said, “To hear and to see even an obvious lie again and again and again, maybe to say it almost by reflex, and then to defend it because we have said it, and at last to embrace it because we’ve defended it.

Will we be that person who defends a thing because our ego won’t allow us to admit that we either don’t know or were wrong? I don’t want to be that person. I won’t carry a lie because of ego. At the end of it all, it will never be worth it.

What is said about a life unexamined?

© zaji, 2016

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