How To Think - We Can AgreeHow To Think - We Can Agree

Reflect for a moment on how everyone on Earth can agree that it is reasonable to come in out of the rain, turn the heat on when it's cold, and slip into our pants before putting shoes on. How is it that we can have such consensus but can't seem to come together on other things that have to do with how we get along, or that could potentially ruin health, the Earth, or put us at war?

Television, radio, and Internet blogs teem with animated debate about immigration, taxation, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, racism, social security, healing methods, diet programs, sex offender punishment, socialized medicine, profiling, religion, education, abortion, and free trade. Last evening as I tried to listen through the cacophony of four people on a television panel screaming like a mini version of the chaos on the stock exchange floor, I thought about what a wonder it is that we humans ever agree on anything. Nevertheless, there is no controversy about the rules of arithmetic, the correct formula for determining an unknown angle in a triangle, the value of pi, the atomic makeup of a water molecule, the organ responsible for pumping blood, or the thrust needed to get a satellite of known weight into orbit. Our agreement on such matters cuts across cultures, borders, languages, and political ideologies. We are one world, one people, and one mind on many matters.

Why can we agree that candy is sweet but are ready to kill one another over ideas on politics and what God says? Why the universal schizophrenia? Quite simply, on the one hand, as to whether sugar is sweet, we let evidence and reason lead. On the other hand, with politics, religion, social, economic, and environmental issues we think beliefs come first and tend to use reason and evidence only to the extent that they support these beliefs.

Consider the world's agreement on the science of math. We approach it with an open mind, use reason, apply experience, demand evidence, and change our formulas if the facts demand. There is so much world accord on arithmetic, geometry, and calculus that they have become common property for humanity. From earliest childhood we are taught to respect the rules of mathematics because of their logic, evidence, and proofs. We could neither pass school nor function in society without acceding to their truths.

With social, political, and religious matters, the cry is for freedom to believe whatever we like without regard for proofs, consistency with logic, or evidence. We are free to shoot arrows of belief in walls, paint bull's-eyes around them, and pretend we have hit the mark of truth. Thus the world is filled to the brim with every sort of cockamamie idea. We have even come to believe tolerance and broadmindedness about such flakiness is like an ethical and intellectual badge of honor. But our insistence on the world's right to a vastitude of ignorance and stupidity threatens to hurtle us over the precipice. Thinking, not belief, must come first.

Unproven beliefs are adopted because they may be popular, make us feel secure, or because we're urged by some authority to adopt them. The soft things of the mind and heart, such as desire, will, trust, passion, convenience, herd instinct, ego, and prejudice become sufficient to hammer such beliefs into the intellect, making them well-nigh unassailable. We vote a certain way because that's the way our parents voted, take any pill a doctor tells us to, eat processed foods because the label says they're healthy, and enter the race for money because society leads us to believe that's where happiness lies.

Why on earth are we so intellectually sloppy where it matters most? Why would we buttress a belief that could result in life or death, health or illness, on things as flimsy as "That's what somebody told me," or "It makes me feel good"?

The answer--it should be embarrassing to admit--is our desire for the sense of security and belonging we felt as infants; a euphoric state of comfort we never really forget or recover from. When we are young all the rules are laid out for us, answers are simple, and our every need is someone else's responsibility. But that's not how grownups should behave. There are consequences for nursing on our latent desire to return to the swaddled and carefree security of our parent's bosom. We cannot simply trust the pabulum we are told as adults or lock away the ideas we were spoon fed as children.

We may grow up in the respect that we assume the responsibility for our material needs by getting educated and landing a job. But even then we tend to regress by trying to make our employer and government our mom and dad by lobbying them to secure us with benefits, subsidies, entitlements, and other guarantees. We demand independence, freedom, and the right to take ownership of material things, but we resist exercising the independence and freedom of our own minds by doing the hard work of earning what we put there. We want someone else to tell us what is right or wrong, grace or sin. We want our moms and dads back.

There is a constant tension between taking full responsibility for our thoughts and actions, and our lingering desire to return to the womb. When faced with the hard trials and questions of life, we naturally long for the knowns we had as children. Children panic if there is an instant of insecurity or uncertainty. But retaining the knowns given to us by our parents is to let them live our lives for us. That's fine when we are children, but as adults we must test those knowns as well as any others that society offers up. True knowledge and the security of certainty can only be owned if earned. True peace with ourselves can only come from bravely reaching within to find out who we are, and then acknowledging and living in accord with the honesty we find there.

Clearly, we are capable of finding truths and agreeing on them. It is therefore not Pollyannaish to think the world can be one on all the important matters that affect our lives. The world's consensus on math, science and other mundane matters proves that. The fantastic (peaceful) advances of the modern world owe their existence to the power of putting thinking first. By applying the same thinking process to the issues that divide us, hope, not disaster and hopelessness, can be our lot.

(Originally published at GoArticles and reprinted with permission from the author, R.L. Wysong).
by R. L. Wysong
References and Bibliography
R. L. Wysong is author of several books; his most recent is Living Life As If Thinking Matters. He has practiced veterinary surgery and medicine, taught college courses in human anatomy, physiology, and the origin of life, directed research for his health education and product development company, and heads the Wysong Institute. Visit: As If Thinking Matters.
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