Friday, November 28, 2008

Opinions and beliefs

"If you want the truth to stand clear before you, Never be for or against. The struggle between 'for' and 'against' is the mind's worst disease."

Not to say opinions and personal beliefs should be discarded easily. Opinions and beliefs, these are important. Much more important than we ever would believe based upon the carelessness with which we choose to collect and express them.
I believe what Sent- Ts'an truly meant was not for men and women to live in a state of limbo, never determining their own beliefs for some fear of a truth that is contrary to ones own. Opinions are important; opinions indicate our passion. Opinions decide where our values lie, how we will live our lives in support of our own personal ethical codes. 
But we must come to terms with the truth; that being that there may well be no truth. That, as much as your mind may come to a specific conclusion, as whole-heartedly you believe in your personal "truth", it is nothing more than an opinion. We wield opinions too quickly, we unsheathe words like running to combat 'gainst some dangerous foe.
Harboring beliefs creates judgments, causes wars, and fosters deep resentment in those who "know" but fail to convince others of their "knowledge". As Rufus (Chris Rock) puts in Dogma, "I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can't generate. Life becomes stagnant." 
And this concept is not just applicable to faith. Richard P. Feynman notes in his book "Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman!" how many times unfiltered belief in previous "truths" can dampen growth towards new physical discovery. (How I wish I had the book with me to look up an example!) Previous data can be incorrect; statistical anomaly need not be the 'cause of either stagnancy or continued steps in an false direction if we are willing to consider the possibility we are wrong, or that the data presented to us is wrong.
I like to think my dad is a smart man, and he once said "If you don't understand why someone would feel differently than you, you don't understand the issue." And I believe that. Or rather, I think it's a good idea. I think that too often we judge the opposition without determining why they should feel differently. It's not about doubting our own opinions, but acknowledging that there may well be no truth. And when there is no truth, an opinion is both empty and dangerous. We must take a side, always. Passionate living dictates it so. But when we blindly follow our own compatriots without sizing up the opposition, who knows the danger in the ensuing battle? So don't stand at the sidelines waiting for the victor, that is the cowards way out, but neither would I become a slave to popular opinion or my own miss-judgements.
To many, the idea of a truth-less world is scary. The concept of universal right is comforting, and we find great solace "knowing" that our opponents will be punished in times to come for their transgressions. And maybe their is a universal right, but it is not our place to judge. On this planet, the only "truth" I acknowledge as necessary is that we should not impair the rights of a fellow human being. There is a sort of symmetrical beauty in that idea, and it ensures that all human beings share similar rights. 
But what I guess I'm really trying to preach here (as hesitantly as I say "preach") is a genuine open-mindedness. Yes, maybe there is truth. But what Schrodinger seemed to indicate (taken greatly out of context) is that when we don't know if something is X or Y, it is both X and Y. And as much as you may believe it is X, it may well not be. So why not consider, even for a moment, the notion of a contradictory truth? If everyone were more willing, more steps may be taken, more fights avoided, and greater harmony enabled. Maybe, this is really just an idea.

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